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Solomon Gursky (Feuilleton non-fiction)

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Moses Berger est encore enfant quand il entend pour la première fois le nom de Solomon Gursky. Ce personnage énigmatique deviendra bientôt pour lui une obsession qui l'incitera à mener une vaste enquête aux quatre coins du monde. Toute sa vie sera consacrée à démêler le vrai du faux dans l'histoire d'une famille aux origines drapées de mystère. Nous entraînant dans les bas- Moses Berger est encore enfant quand il entend pour la première fois le nom de Solomon Gursky. Ce personnage énigmatique deviendra bientôt pour lui une obsession qui l'incitera à mener une vaste enquête aux quatre coins du monde. Toute sa vie sera consacrée à démêler le vrai du faux dans l'histoire d'une famille aux origines drapées de mystère. Nous entraînant dans les bas-fonds londoniens du XIXe siècle, en Arctique avec l'expédition de Franklin en 1845, jusqu'en Amérique pendant la prohibition, des paysages vallonnés des Cantons-de-L'Est d'hier et d'aujourd'hui aux hauteurs de Westmount et ruelles du Mile End, Solomon Gursky est un roman puissant qui captive et terrasse par sa verve et son humour mordant. Dans cette traversée épique et hilarante, il est autant question d'Inuits convertis au judaïsme, de la Longue Marche de Mao, d'âmes échouées au passage du Nord-Ouest, des bars jazz de Montréal, que d'un corbeau maléfique tournoyant au-dessus de six générations de Gursky. Fresque totale de l'Amérique du Nord, de la fin de Far West au début de l'industrialisation, en bifurquant par la révolution russe, la Seconde Guerre mondiale et les seventies, Solomon Gursky, n'ayons pas peur des mots, est un chef-d'oeuvre. Fils d'un ferrailleur, Mordecai Richler est né en 1931, rue Saint-Urbain, au coeur du Mile End, le célèbre quartier de Montréal. À l'âge de dix-neuf ans, il s'exile en Europe, d'abord en France et en Espagne, puis en Angleterre où il publie L'apprentissage de Duddy Kravitz en 1959. De retour au Canada en 1972, il s'installe dans les Cantons-de-L'Est avec sa femme Florence et leurs cinq enfants. Il meurt en 2001, laissant une oeuvre incomparable à la renommée internationale.


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Moses Berger est encore enfant quand il entend pour la première fois le nom de Solomon Gursky. Ce personnage énigmatique deviendra bientôt pour lui une obsession qui l'incitera à mener une vaste enquête aux quatre coins du monde. Toute sa vie sera consacrée à démêler le vrai du faux dans l'histoire d'une famille aux origines drapées de mystère. Nous entraînant dans les bas- Moses Berger est encore enfant quand il entend pour la première fois le nom de Solomon Gursky. Ce personnage énigmatique deviendra bientôt pour lui une obsession qui l'incitera à mener une vaste enquête aux quatre coins du monde. Toute sa vie sera consacrée à démêler le vrai du faux dans l'histoire d'une famille aux origines drapées de mystère. Nous entraînant dans les bas-fonds londoniens du XIXe siècle, en Arctique avec l'expédition de Franklin en 1845, jusqu'en Amérique pendant la prohibition, des paysages vallonnés des Cantons-de-L'Est d'hier et d'aujourd'hui aux hauteurs de Westmount et ruelles du Mile End, Solomon Gursky est un roman puissant qui captive et terrasse par sa verve et son humour mordant. Dans cette traversée épique et hilarante, il est autant question d'Inuits convertis au judaïsme, de la Longue Marche de Mao, d'âmes échouées au passage du Nord-Ouest, des bars jazz de Montréal, que d'un corbeau maléfique tournoyant au-dessus de six générations de Gursky. Fresque totale de l'Amérique du Nord, de la fin de Far West au début de l'industrialisation, en bifurquant par la révolution russe, la Seconde Guerre mondiale et les seventies, Solomon Gursky, n'ayons pas peur des mots, est un chef-d'oeuvre. Fils d'un ferrailleur, Mordecai Richler est né en 1931, rue Saint-Urbain, au coeur du Mile End, le célèbre quartier de Montréal. À l'âge de dix-neuf ans, il s'exile en Europe, d'abord en France et en Espagne, puis en Angleterre où il publie L'apprentissage de Duddy Kravitz en 1959. De retour au Canada en 1972, il s'installe dans les Cantons-de-L'Est avec sa femme Florence et leurs cinq enfants. Il meurt en 2001, laissant une oeuvre incomparable à la renommée internationale.

30 review for Solomon Gursky (Feuilleton non-fiction)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is an ambitious, confusing and sometimes crazy mixture of fact and fantasy. It tells the story of an ultimately rich Jewish Canadian family from the early nineteenth century to the 1980s. The story is loosely held together by Moses Berger, an alcoholic writer obsessed with the family who has accumulated scraps of information over a lifetime. At the heart of the story are the legends of the family's founding father Ephraim, a small-time criminal in London who somehow inveigles himself a plac This is an ambitious, confusing and sometimes crazy mixture of fact and fantasy. It tells the story of an ultimately rich Jewish Canadian family from the early nineteenth century to the 1980s. The story is loosely held together by Moses Berger, an alcoholic writer obsessed with the family who has accumulated scraps of information over a lifetime. At the heart of the story are the legends of the family's founding father Ephraim, a small-time criminal in London who somehow inveigles himself a place on Franklin's ill-fated expedition to find the North-West passage. In Richler's version of the story, Ephraim is the only survivor, first through cannibalism and then by persuading the local Inuit to follow his religious cult. Ephraim's three grandsons are Bernard, Solomon and Morrie, who we first meet in a remote hotel in rural Saskatchewan where their father is a horse trader. Solomon bets their entire future in a poker game and wins the hotel, and the money that enables them to start a business, initially as bootleggers but eventually as a respectable business, which is run by the controlling patriarch Bernard after the charismatic Solomon disappears in a mysterious plane crash. These are just two of the many strands of a tale that encompasses many disparate elements, and allows Richler to indulge his interests in history, Inuit customs, Judaism and much else besides. The book is deliberately muddled, partly to reflect Moses's addled mind, and partly to allow some surprising revelations to be held back until quite late. For me it is too long, and I did feel that the female characters' roles were very limited, but the best parts are very good indeed. I read it as part of The Mookse and the Gripes group's project to analyse the 1990 Booker prize shortlist. 1990 was another very strong year, and I can't place this one any higher that fifth, but in other years it might have been a strong contender, and I would be interested in reading more Richler.

  2. 4 out of 5

    K

    Imagine if I told you the story of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” in the following way: Chapter 1 – the birth of Thing One and Thing Two Chapter 2 – after the children’s mother comes home at the end Chapter 3 – the cat’s early childhood years Chapter 4 – the fish’s perspective as the cat wrecks the house And so on, and so forth, for 400 pages. Reading this book was a similar experience. The basic plot of “Solomon Gursky was Here” focuses on the rise and exploits of the notoriously wealthy and powerf Imagine if I told you the story of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” in the following way: Chapter 1 – the birth of Thing One and Thing Two Chapter 2 – after the children’s mother comes home at the end Chapter 3 – the cat’s early childhood years Chapter 4 – the fish’s perspective as the cat wrecks the house And so on, and so forth, for 400 pages. Reading this book was a similar experience. The basic plot of “Solomon Gursky was Here” focuses on the rise and exploits of the notoriously wealthy and powerful (and of course, highly dysfunctional) Gursky family, and on the self-destructive alcoholic would-be scholar, Moses Berger, who has become obsessed with documenting their story. Moses is particularly fixated on Solomon, the middle brother, whose alleged death is shrouded in mystery and may have been caused by Solomon’s older brother Bernard. Several reviewers described this ambitious book as “Dickensian” and I agree – the basic story becomes a far-reaching saga with tangential episodes focusing on all sorts of peripheral characters. The problem is, I never much liked Dickens. In my opinion, Dickens’s novels reflected the fact that they had started out as magazine serials where he was paid by the word, and that he profited by drawing out the story as long as he possibly could. Writing long, sprawling epics rather than tight, focused stories may have worked for Dickens financially, but it doesn’t work artistically, at least for me. I really appreciate Mordecai Richler as a writer, and it kills me to give him just two stars. For me, though, this was not one of his better books although it was certainly more ambitious and far-reaching than his others. The story was simply too long, dense, and convoluted for me. Richler constantly went back and forth between a multitude of characters (often peripheral to the story) and time periods, and it was difficult to keep everything straight. There were constant vague references to climactic events which I only started to get 2-300 pages later, when I no longer remembered the references or how they came in. I started to get into the story about halfway through, which is a little late for a 400+ page book. Even once I got into it, I never found the book particularly compelling. As an aside, I suspect this book had a strong role in inspiring Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” I had a strong sense of déjà vu as I read about tough Arctic Jews consorting with Eskimos. I give Richler credit, though, for knowing his Yiddish and his Jewish rituals and lifestyle way better than Chabon did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    What a rollicking humdinger of a roller coaster ride! Moses Berger's obsession with the Gursky dynasty pitches the reader from an early 19th century Durham coal mine to the 1980s Eastern Townships, with Franklin's disastrous voyage to find the Northwest passage and the building of a commercial empire based on the sale and production of alcohol with the murkiest, muddiest, most questionable of methods that slide in and out of legality in a slippery and deadly game. Five generations of Gurskys, in What a rollicking humdinger of a roller coaster ride! Moses Berger's obsession with the Gursky dynasty pitches the reader from an early 19th century Durham coal mine to the 1980s Eastern Townships, with Franklin's disastrous voyage to find the Northwest passage and the building of a commercial empire based on the sale and production of alcohol with the murkiest, muddiest, most questionable of methods that slide in and out of legality in a slippery and deadly game. Five generations of Gurskys, interspersed with Berger's own growing realisation that he was never the fisherman, but always the fish, caught and played and made to dance across the water by Solomon, the central figure, whose mysterious death provides the narrative drive. The story is not told in a linear way, but bucks and switches between time and place, from Canada to China and all points between, mixing legend and truth, mixing Jewish and Inuit mythology. A certain amount of tenacity is a prerequisite for the reader; it took me until part five, a good 300 pages in, before the characters began to come together and hold a place in my mind, before I began to see a pattern emerging. It is not so much the unravelling of a knot, it is more a whole skein of loose threads that are, at last, knitted up into a complete picture. Small note on the edition: I wouldn't recommend this Vintage paperback, it was proof read by a dyslexic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    JenniferD

    this was a re-read for me... but i last read it when it was published (1989) and have a crap memory. so all i retained was the barest of strings, and the sense of just loving this story. i have to say that i get so much enjoyment out of reading richler (and, as with carol shields, i get bummed fairly frequently over the fact they are no longer here to share new work with us). if the word 'romp' were ever well used in reviewing a book, it would be for this novel. it's a total romp. (can't believe this was a re-read for me... but i last read it when it was published (1989) and have a crap memory. so all i retained was the barest of strings, and the sense of just loving this story. i have to say that i get so much enjoyment out of reading richler (and, as with carol shields, i get bummed fairly frequently over the fact they are no longer here to share new work with us). if the word 'romp' were ever well used in reviewing a book, it would be for this novel. it's a total romp. (can't believe i'm using that word!) it's epic and grand, fun and sharp, and for all its literariness, there is also an interesting mystery. in her review for the NY Times, Francine Prose says this of the book: "In this, his ninth and most complex novel, Mr. Richler, a Canadian, is after something ambitious and risky, something slightly Dickensian, magical realist: ''Two Hundred Years of Jewish-Canadian Solitude.'' Richler fans will find the scenes one expects in his work -funny, biting, snide-sympathetic takes on Montreal Jewish life - incorporated into a fanciful superstructure of history, geography, myth... Regardless of what its author may actually have experienced, ''Solomon Gursky Was Here'' reads as if it were great fun to write. Dense, intricately plotted, it takes exuberant, nose-thumbing joy in traditional storytelling with all its nervy cliffhangers and narrative hooks, its windfall legacies, stolen portraits, murders and revenges, its clues that drop on the story line with a satisfying thud." and i think the cool thing prose hit on in her review was the aspect of fun -- as i was reading i kept hoping richer had as much fun writing this as i was having reading it. there seems to be a whole lot of mischievous joy seeping from the pages, and that was a great experience! (here's the link to prose's review, if you are interested, written 08 april 1990: https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/2... )

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Pool

    My second Booker 1990 shortlist read as part of the Mookse and Gripes group revisit. This is a novel that asks a lot of its reader. At times it's tempting to quit, such is the seemingly random sequence of events and characters thrown into the mix. Timelines are not only non linear; there seems to be little reason why one passage precedes and follows another. While there are nominally eight sections, each with roughly seven chapters, it would not change the reading experience if each of the (roughl My second Booker 1990 shortlist read as part of the Mookse and Gripes group revisit. This is a novel that asks a lot of its reader. At times it's tempting to quit, such is the seemingly random sequence of events and characters thrown into the mix. Timelines are not only non linear; there seems to be little reason why one passage precedes and follows another. While there are nominally eight sections, each with roughly seven chapters, it would not change the reading experience if each of the (roughly) fifty six chapters were cast into the air, re-assembled and then read in the new, randomly formed sequence. Solomon Gursky is a chaotic read. The question is whether Richler pulls it off in, obviously deliberately, writing a story that constantly shifts focal points. Minor characters, newly introduced characters, spring out of the page, and the reader is rarely allowed to get comfortable. There are compensations. Richler writes great comedy. L.B Berger says of his son: "If he is really determined to become a writer he is certain to be compared to me and suffer for it. Possibly I never should have had a child. It was indulgent of me"(96) (L.B. isn't particularly talented, as it happens!!). Many of the individual characters are compelling, in different ways: L.B Berger, for his arrogance Mr. Bernard Gursky, for his frustrations and paranoia. Solomon Gursky; for his quick and witty retort to any provocation, and his raw ability to excel at everything. Henry and Isaac for their willfulness. Ephraim Gursky as the great pioneer and philanderer. Then there are the other hundred characters who emerge at society parties; who hang out at bars; the many advisors to the Gursky business empire; mysterious lovers and muses. Solomon Gursky Was Here charges through Canadian history in the Prohibition era. It is a worthy Booker short list candidate in my opinion. I suspect that it will annoy, baffle and alienate readers while, in equal measure, it wins new admirers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Imagine Midnight's Children meets the Godfather. Now make it contiguous with 200 years of Canadian history. Now make it one of the most suspenseful, fascinating and hilarious thing you've ever read. If you were able to imagine all that, you might have a taste for what this remarkable (but unfortunately underrated) novel has to offer. If you can keep up with the non-chronological narration, dozens of interesting characters, and the magical properties of the mysterious, trickster raven that weave Imagine Midnight's Children meets the Godfather. Now make it contiguous with 200 years of Canadian history. Now make it one of the most suspenseful, fascinating and hilarious thing you've ever read. If you were able to imagine all that, you might have a taste for what this remarkable (but unfortunately underrated) novel has to offer. If you can keep up with the non-chronological narration, dozens of interesting characters, and the magical properties of the mysterious, trickster raven that weave throughout the story, you are in for a real treat!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ken Ryu

    This is where ratings mislead. Richler is a genius. This book is a high-wire act that only an author of extreme talent and chutzpah dare attempt. This book is dripping with historical fiction, biblical allegory, mysticism, Arctic adventure, prohibition gangster lore and Wall Street intrigue. Richler breaks the mold and introduces 5 generations of the Gursky family in no particular order. Ephraim Gursky is the progenitor of the many colorful offspring that stem from his seed. The orphaned Ephraim This is where ratings mislead. Richler is a genius. This book is a high-wire act that only an author of extreme talent and chutzpah dare attempt. This book is dripping with historical fiction, biblical allegory, mysticism, Arctic adventure, prohibition gangster lore and Wall Street intrigue. Richler breaks the mold and introduces 5 generations of the Gursky family in no particular order. Ephraim Gursky is the progenitor of the many colorful offspring that stem from his seed. The orphaned Ephraim runs afoul of the law in England and flees on a doomed Artic adventure, or did he? Whether he was the sole survivor of the Campbell expedition in the 1850s to the Arctic regions in unclear. What is clear is that he is street smart and a survivor. Traits that will later be found in that of his favorite grandson, the eponymous Solomon. Solomon is a ladies man, gambler and rule-breaker. With his brother Bernard, the empire-building eldest brother, and the amiable and loyal Morrie, the brothers Gursky create a Canadian bootlegging behemoth. Our sometimes guide is the son of a famous Canadian poet L.B Berger, Moses. Moses is an alcoholic writer who has thrown away his talent for drink. He is consumed by the tragic life of Solomon Gursky and seeks to find living relatives and friends who can tell his story. Moses is looking for Solomon's journal that is believed to exist but he has yet to track down. Besides our guide Moses, Richler uses an omniscient narrator with sometimes precise and sometimes shaky reliability as we span near 150 years of the Gursky past. Richler takes us on benders with Moses, tells a whopper of a fish tale, immerses us in the sibling rivalry between Solomon and Bernard, provides the origin story of Ephraim, spins a yarn about a defining high-stakes poker game, and introduces us to the frivolous and vulgar 4th Gursky generation. The stories are told in a voice of a brilliant orator who likely has refined and enhanced details over many cocktails to numerous strangers. The reason this has a 4 rather than 5 star rating is due to the complexity. Richler jumps generations, centuries and characters throughout. The characters are presented fast and furious at the outset and only towards the last third of the book does the family tree come into focus. Even then, just as the first three generations are becoming clear, Richler sends in the four generation with still unfinished business remaining with Solomon and Bernard. He leaves essential questions unanswered. The reader is faced with accepting the loose ends or rereading the book for clues that are scattered through and missed during the first run through. This is a double-black diamond reading comprehension challenge. Richler is raw as ever. Racism, sexism and other uncomfortable "isms" rear their heads. It is discomfiting, but life with the Gurskys and Moses Berger call for a rough and tumble ride.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark Lisac

    This is the only Canadian novel I can think of that might be called an epic. It may fall just short of that status and more closely fit the description offered in an original review in Maclean's magazine: "a comic myth." The main flaw — noticeable in my rereading 30 years after initial publication — is Richler's tendency to drift from witty, incisive satire to clumsy and contemptuous sideswipes. The joke-filled saga of the devious and occasionally vicious Gursky clan revolves around a serious th This is the only Canadian novel I can think of that might be called an epic. It may fall just short of that status and more closely fit the description offered in an original review in Maclean's magazine: "a comic myth." The main flaw — noticeable in my rereading 30 years after initial publication — is Richler's tendency to drift from witty, incisive satire to clumsy and contemptuous sideswipes. The joke-filled saga of the devious and occasionally vicious Gursky clan revolves around a serious theme: anti-Semitism; yes, even in Canada. It's a little odd that many comments about the book do not mention the serious intent that Richler buried just below the surface of his broad humour. Solomon Gursky himself is a bit of a conundrum, a redeemer but also a Gursky through and through. Rounded up from 4.5 stars on entertainment value. Footnote 1: Richler would have finished writing the book by 1988 at the latest, but one of the characters expresses concern about reports of runaway global warming caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The relatively early mention probably owes something to Richler's habit of collecting interesting newspaper clippings. Footnote 2: One of the character's descriptions of Canada is deliciously succinct sarcasm and remains entirely relevant in the political atmosphere of 2019: "Let me put it this way. Canada is not so much a country as a holding tank filled with the disgruntled progeny of defeated peoples."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Grant

    What a mess! ... This was my first and likely last Richler novel. I was expecting something a lot more coherent out of a man who was supposedly one of the great Canadian novelists. This is a ridiculously overcooked, meandering book with little-to-no focus. I think as late as the final few chapters, Richler was STILL introducing new characters!! I find it pretty infuriating when an author does that. The book is far too grandiose in scope. He introduces too many characters, too many disconnected s What a mess! ... This was my first and likely last Richler novel. I was expecting something a lot more coherent out of a man who was supposedly one of the great Canadian novelists. This is a ridiculously overcooked, meandering book with little-to-no focus. I think as late as the final few chapters, Richler was STILL introducing new characters!! I find it pretty infuriating when an author does that. The book is far too grandiose in scope. He introduces too many characters, too many disconnected scenes, and the overall focus of the story becomes clouded long before the end. Maybe his earlier books, which seemed somewhat simpler in scope e.g. Duddy Kravitz, were more coherent. This, however, is an incoherent mess and it's absolutely laughable to me that it was nominated for the Booker Prize. Overlong, convoluted, a true mess of a book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This was pretty good most of the way through, though I think it may have been just a hair too long, since by the end I found myself wondering what it added to have the timelines and characters all mixed up, where at the start I found this pleasing. As a side note, this book makes me wonder if those who claim great originality for the likes of Pynchon and DFWallace for doing exactly this kind of mixing up are either underread or full of it. I am not even sure that this technique was invented in t This was pretty good most of the way through, though I think it may have been just a hair too long, since by the end I found myself wondering what it added to have the timelines and characters all mixed up, where at the start I found this pleasing. As a side note, this book makes me wonder if those who claim great originality for the likes of Pynchon and DFWallace for doing exactly this kind of mixing up are either underread or full of it. I am not even sure that this technique was invented in the modern or postmodern periods, however much it has come to be associated with them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    What a joy to read! How do you describe Solomon Gursky Was Here? In its simplest form, it's the story of Ephraim Gursky, a minor crook and forger, who escapes from prison in England and tricks his way onto the ill-fated Franklin expedition, and manages to survive the disaster. He roams the Arctic, becomes a religious leader to a band of Eskimos; in some way he persuades them they are one of the 12 tribes of Israel. He eventually finds his way to Saskatchewan, starts a family and then the story f What a joy to read! How do you describe Solomon Gursky Was Here? In its simplest form, it's the story of Ephraim Gursky, a minor crook and forger, who escapes from prison in England and tricks his way onto the ill-fated Franklin expedition, and manages to survive the disaster. He roams the Arctic, becomes a religious leader to a band of Eskimos; in some way he persuades them they are one of the 12 tribes of Israel. He eventually finds his way to Saskatchewan, starts a family and then the story follows his three grand-children; Solomon, Barnie and Morrie and their children. The grand-sons found successful liquor business, built partly on smuggling booze to the US during their prohibition; then settle in Montreal. The other aspect of the story follows one Moses Berger, son of poet LB Berger, who worked for the Gursky families. Moses goes through this story trying to find out the truth about Solomon Gursky; a trickster like his grand father, who died in a plane crash in the North of Canada. That is the story in its simplest form. It meanders from the past, following Ephraim, then his grand sons and their kids; also following Moses, now drunk, a failed writer as he explores the Gursky family. There are so many lovely tidbits, humor; just great, entertaining story-telling. It's an entertaining read and it winds up in such a satisfying manner; it was a pure joy to read. I highly recommend. It's been many years since I read something by Mordecai Richler and I'm going to have to find Barney's Version next.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    In what is touted by critics as possibly Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s best novel, we accompany Moses Berger in his obsessive quest to unravel the secrets of the Gurskys, a Jewish family who ran one of the biggest Canadian business empires. Berger, the son of a Jewish poet, a drunkard and an unsuccessful writer, particularly searches for traces of Solomon Gursky, the most enigmatic of the three Gursky brothers who saw the rise of their family’s fortune during the prohibition years as bootle In what is touted by critics as possibly Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s best novel, we accompany Moses Berger in his obsessive quest to unravel the secrets of the Gurskys, a Jewish family who ran one of the biggest Canadian business empires. Berger, the son of a Jewish poet, a drunkard and an unsuccessful writer, particularly searches for traces of Solomon Gursky, the most enigmatic of the three Gursky brothers who saw the rise of their family’s fortune during the prohibition years as bootleggers and rumrunners. Fleeing court action against him and his family, Solomon reportedly died in a plane crash. Thus, following Berger, we zigzag through time and place, from 19th century London, the Arctic Circle, up to 20th century Canada. There’s the adventure of the Gursky patriarch, Ephraim, a criminal from London who joins the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic, survives it and lives with Inuit tribes, and then swindles hapless pioneers in 19th century Canadian frontier lands. We read Ephraim’s grandchildren’s exploits in building their family empire, their dysfunctional lives, and the feuds that followed over their wealth. Berger’s own storyline, his childhood and the life of an unsuccessful writer in the figure of Berger’s own father. Newspaper clippings, letters, even a chapter from a novel supposedly written by one of the characters, and other memorabilia that adds to Berger’s investigation are inserted in between chapters. Historical figures hobnob with fictional ones. And since Berger’s quest (and thus the narrative) spans six generations of the Gurskys, we get a family tree (and a map of Canada) before the first chapter begins. It’s a wonder how each disparate scene are weaved together into a richly coherent whole. From Solomon Gursky Was Here

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clementine

    This is my first foray into Mordecai Richler's adult fiction. I'm not sure why, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it - perhaps because being assigned a nearly 600-page novel in the last few weeks of my degree is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. However, I ended up actually quite enjoying it, mostly for the reason that people seem to dislike it: I'm a huge fan of multiple interlocking narratives, most especially if they aren't presented chronologically. Others have found the book difficult to fol This is my first foray into Mordecai Richler's adult fiction. I'm not sure why, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it - perhaps because being assigned a nearly 600-page novel in the last few weeks of my degree is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. However, I ended up actually quite enjoying it, mostly for the reason that people seem to dislike it: I'm a huge fan of multiple interlocking narratives, most especially if they aren't presented chronologically. Others have found the book difficult to follow, but I don't think it was too bad. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, especially in the Gursky family tree - it took me awhile to really get a grasp on how everyone was related to one another. But I don't generally have a hard time keeping track of complex, non-chronological narratives. I also loved the revisionist approach to Canadian history, another criticism of the book. I believe Margaret Atwood called it sacrilegious (blasphemous? something quite damning) to have Ephraim Gursky on the Franklin Expedition - but then, Atwood used the expedition very differently in her 1991 short story "The Age of Lead". Regardless, I thought it was like a delightful game of Where's Waldo? to spot Ephraim and Solomon all across history. I liked the writing style as well - acerbic, direct. Not that I'd expect any differently of a Montreal writer. I know I mentioned just the other day that I prefer texts with characters who I can relate to, but I thoroughly enjoyed Solomon Gursky despite the fact that there really isn't a single likeable character in the whole thing. I suppose a good, well-told tale can triumph for me once in awhile.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    There were times when I believed "Solomon Gursky Was Here" would collapse under the weight of some many time lines, characters, and emotional baggage...it's the novel equivalent of the most exquisitely constructed Jenga tower...ready to topple over at any moment. Luckily it doesn't...and Mordechai Richler's most ambitious & epic novel manages to hold together with stunning skill. This truly is an astonishing read, and shows a depth & breadth of reach that many people might not have believed Mr. There were times when I believed "Solomon Gursky Was Here" would collapse under the weight of some many time lines, characters, and emotional baggage...it's the novel equivalent of the most exquisitely constructed Jenga tower...ready to topple over at any moment. Luckily it doesn't...and Mordechai Richler's most ambitious & epic novel manages to hold together with stunning skill. This truly is an astonishing read, and shows a depth & breadth of reach that many people might not have believed Mr. Richler capable of achieving. After reading "Gursky", throw any such doubts into the dustbin.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Merilee

    I would give it a 5 if I were only expressing the pleasure I had in reading this hilarious and interesting shaggy family saga based mainly on the Canadian Bronfman family, of Prohibition liquor running fame. Richler manages to sneak a pair of Jewish con-men onto Franklin's Arctic expedition, one of them purportedly Gursky's/Bronfman's progenitor and the rest is history - sort of. I would give it a 5 if I were only expressing the pleasure I had in reading this hilarious and interesting shaggy family saga based mainly on the Canadian Bronfman family, of Prohibition liquor running fame. Richler manages to sneak a pair of Jewish con-men onto Franklin's Arctic expedition, one of them purportedly Gursky's/Bronfman's progenitor and the rest is history - sort of.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mag

    This was my second reading of the book, and twenty years later I still found it an intelligent and hilarious, if somewhat biting, romp through Canadian Jewish history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nafiza

    I didn't care for the book but it's well written. Vast. So... my liking of it has no bearing on its genius. I didn't care for the book but it's well written. Vast. So... my liking of it has no bearing on its genius.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Quinn MacTavish

    Kind of a chaotic structure with very dense passages. For example, a minor detail or character being mentioned, and then not being mentioned again for another two-hundred pages, leaving you confused when they/it are intrinsic to the plot. Richler's other novels are much tighter. However, I love his sense of humour and character building, and if you enjoy those types of elements for the sake of themselves (rather than how they serve the plot) as well as a good dose of Canadiana, then this is the Kind of a chaotic structure with very dense passages. For example, a minor detail or character being mentioned, and then not being mentioned again for another two-hundred pages, leaving you confused when they/it are intrinsic to the plot. Richler's other novels are much tighter. However, I love his sense of humour and character building, and if you enjoy those types of elements for the sake of themselves (rather than how they serve the plot) as well as a good dose of Canadiana, then this is the book for you.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    I've read my fair share of books by Canadians - this one makes it three of my last four! - but above any of them, this book seemed essentially Canadian, historical fiction steeped in Canada's unique aspects: its polar wastes and Franco-English divide, its closer relationship with Britain, its small-country feel within neverending borders. This long, twisting, family saga of a Prohibition-era booze fortune - somewhat paralleling the real-life Bronfman family and Seagram - is told out of order in I've read my fair share of books by Canadians - this one makes it three of my last four! - but above any of them, this book seemed essentially Canadian, historical fiction steeped in Canada's unique aspects: its polar wastes and Franco-English divide, its closer relationship with Britain, its small-country feel within neverending borders. This long, twisting, family saga of a Prohibition-era booze fortune - somewhat paralleling the real-life Bronfman family and Seagram - is told out of order in fits and starts, somewhat about Moshe Berger, an aspirational author surrogate (Rhodes scholar historian and freelance writer, hobnobbing with aristocrats while procrastinating on his graduate thesis on Beveridge), who has an affair with a Gursky scion and falls into chronicling the family. The woman in question is something of a ditz - the women in this novel are either airheaded bombshells or shrews; the male characters simply blackguards. There is no-one to like - more on this later. Maybe a good way to think about Richler’s goal - besides cocking a snook at snobby anti-Semites of both the Anglo- and Francophone variety, eventually in a scene which (no spoilers!) I found distasteful in multiple senses - is to write a paean to family historians. Seeing characters come to life, from bearded sepia figures in overcoats to living human beings you might have known, is a thrill, something I would love to experience with my own family pictures. And as another reader on here has pointed out, Richler really knows his Jewish stuff, unlike Michael Chabon whose The Yiddish Policemen Union has surely drawn inspiration from his shtetl Jews in the land of the midnight sun (in one gag, new Jewish converts are told they must fast from sundown to sundown on Yom Kippur, leading to mass starvation since this amounts to several months). He’s similarly done his reading on the Franklin Expedition and the Victorian underworld. But why not read a true version - say, Hadley Freeman’s recent and excellent-sounding House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family - than this zany, sagging satire? Because to reiterate, this book is l-o-n-g. It’s boring to complain about "unlikable characters", but after hundreds of pages you really start to get tired of everyone in this book, from the feckless scoundrel founding father Ephraim to Isaac, the youngest of the spoiled-rotten descendants. Did we really need so much of this? And jokes which may have seemed edgy and sharp in the late 80s now sound tone-deaf: racist (writing a Chinese-Canadian man's speech in dialect, Ephraim "predicting" an eclipse to awe the ignorant Inuit savages), homophobic and sexist. Do I sound preachy? I would feel more accommodating if this book had been, say, FOUR HUNDRED PAGES SHORTER. Lastly: two instances of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon - one of the characters in this sprawling novel (a half-Inuit Lubavitcher hasid!) is a believer in the global cooling thing I talked about in relation to Ice… The other is the kingdom of Prester John, which I first encountered last month in Quine’s Pursuit of Truth. (Is there a symbolism in the Christian search for a mystical utopia vs Jewish pragmatism? Eh, wouldn’t bet on it.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    1.1

    Can Lit is sort of in thrall to 'Arctic Narratives', and multi-generational epics seem to be a dime-a-dozen just about anywhere, so I was leery of this book at first. But I had read Richler before, and high hopes compelled me to press on despite being a bit confused at the start (I had to flip compulsively to the Gursky family tree every chapter). The narration is nonlinear, so there's your prerequisite dose of bewildering postmodernism I guess, but I found it well-paced and effective. The dialog Can Lit is sort of in thrall to 'Arctic Narratives', and multi-generational epics seem to be a dime-a-dozen just about anywhere, so I was leery of this book at first. But I had read Richler before, and high hopes compelled me to press on despite being a bit confused at the start (I had to flip compulsively to the Gursky family tree every chapter). The narration is nonlinear, so there's your prerequisite dose of bewildering postmodernism I guess, but I found it well-paced and effective. The dialogue is consistently good, the characters are swell, the plot is coherent, and the patrilineal angst is in effect. Best of all, there are many poignant and funny moments throughout the novel, and the revelation of the character and history of Ephraim Gursky alone is worth many times the price of admittance.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ironical Dins

    This is the story of the founding of a family dynasty through the eyes of an outside chronicler, Moses Berger, who is the son of a poet who the family supported. Really, the book is about many things: an obsession with those who are more financially fortunate, living in the shadow of our parents, Jewish experience throughout the world, the North and experiences of the North, family business and prohibition, and, I may be reaching here, who owns the past and who owns Canada's past. This is the story of the founding of a family dynasty through the eyes of an outside chronicler, Moses Berger, who is the son of a poet who the family supported. Really, the book is about many things: an obsession with those who are more financially fortunate, living in the shadow of our parents, Jewish experience throughout the world, the North and experiences of the North, family business and prohibition, and, I may be reaching here, who owns the past and who owns Canada's past.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. indeed, he was! embroiling jewry into every major canadian historical event of the past 200 years (not to mention the international ones!) is pure chutzpah. it's this quality that makes mordecai richler so riotous and touching to me - in everything he wrote, he goes all in. the gurskys are larger than life, yet even in the final pages richler draws them back to montreal - to the family mansion in westmount, no less. in the second grade, i was assigned to present to the class on any canadian provi indeed, he was! embroiling jewry into every major canadian historical event of the past 200 years (not to mention the international ones!) is pure chutzpah. it's this quality that makes mordecai richler so riotous and touching to me - in everything he wrote, he goes all in. the gurskys are larger than life, yet even in the final pages richler draws them back to montreal - to the family mansion in westmount, no less. in the second grade, i was assigned to present to the class on any canadian province of my choosing. my dad is originally from montreal - my family left for toronto in the early 70s - so of course i had to pick quebec. for more than half my time in front of the class, all i could do was go on about mordecai richler. the jacob two-two tv show had recently taken over my life, and at home i would look up to find my dad's copy of barney's version on his bookshelf, listening as he would go on about how good the film adaptation of duddy kravitz was to me. being jewish in toronto can at times feel like being a montreal jew, twice removed. the city looms large in the collective memory, both of my family and of canada itself - listening to stories of my dad growing up in snowdon, going to the cinema and the deli beside it, feels as definitive to me as reading richler's characters trudge up and down st. urbain. you know the exact spots to go, which bakeries have the best bagels, who attended which public school, and all the gossip of mcgill alumni, even if they are six hours away. the city has been idolized as a key originating point for so long that it feels intrinsic to canadian jewish identity, and seeing richler give the same treatment to the rest of the country and it's tales is an absolute delight. gursky spans generations, and the points of genealogy can be hazy at best. but instead of seeming lackadaisical, it feels true to life. moses berger's unrelenting research to fill in the gaps of such an infuriating family is compounded by complications even further than the circumstances - rampant alcoholism, mysterious disappearances, and relationships so fragmented it's a wonder the whole mctavish enterprise can stay afloat. it's well deserving of its 540 pages - for all its cyclicity, revisionist history, and undeniable personality.

  23. 5 out of 5

    AJ

    I really enjoyed the start to this novel, with its mythical allusions (a raven, a mysterious stranger, evocations of something terrible, etc.) but it all too quickly turned into a shambles. The main problems (aside from the obvious time-jumps and POV skips) were the self-indulgent twaddle (to give an example, Richler's gratuitous depiction of Eastern Township bars and their patrons, something that might be akin to "local colour" but went on far too long, pages of the stuff that are ultimately me I really enjoyed the start to this novel, with its mythical allusions (a raven, a mysterious stranger, evocations of something terrible, etc.) but it all too quickly turned into a shambles. The main problems (aside from the obvious time-jumps and POV skips) were the self-indulgent twaddle (to give an example, Richler's gratuitous depiction of Eastern Township bars and their patrons, something that might be akin to "local colour" but went on far too long, pages of the stuff that are ultimately meaningless), the loss of the mythological and emergence of the farcical or cartoonish (had this not been written pre-1989, I would have sworn Mr. Bernard was taken directly from Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons), and Richler's apparent inability to write convincing female characters, which seems to rival Cormac McCarthy's ineptitude (e.g., the introduction to Beatrice's character reveals her as a "raven-haired beauty, with breasts too rudely full for such a trim figure and coal-black eyes that shone with too much appetite.") Had any novice writer turned in that description, I suspect it'd be pinned to the staff bulletin board just for laughs. I found myself skipping passages, completely disinterested in Moses or the Gursky family other than Ephraim, and after 140 pp decided my time would be better invested elsewhere.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hotaru

    What a hard book to rate ! Mordecai Richler doesn't pull any punches and is not kind his readers, especially if the latest have just a vague knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture. A lot of information is given, many allusions are made that you'll probably understand only if you read the book 2 or 3 times, PoVs mercilessly jump from one character to the next, from one CENTURY to the next. One of the main characters, a kind scholar/drunkard obsessed with the rich and shady Gursky family, is not What a hard book to rate ! Mordecai Richler doesn't pull any punches and is not kind his readers, especially if the latest have just a vague knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture. A lot of information is given, many allusions are made that you'll probably understand only if you read the book 2 or 3 times, PoVs mercilessly jump from one character to the next, from one CENTURY to the next. One of the main characters, a kind scholar/drunkard obsessed with the rich and shady Gursky family, is not very likeable, but then there are no shining heroes in this story. But in the end, you can't help being pulled in the whirlwind that are the Three Gursky Brothers and their grandfather Ephraïm. Some truly striking nuggets of writings about Canada can be also found in the book, which I would definitely recommend.

  25. 4 out of 5

    B. Glen Rotchin

    A novel scrapbooked from research. For the first 100 pages I was thinking that this may be Richler’s masterpiece. The ambition of it just that impressive. By page 200 I was tiring of his voice and losing the narrative thread. By page 300 his style was getting truly annoying, his penchant for stereotypes and his sarcastic humour. There's literally no one to like or care about in the story. I finished reading with little interest in the outcome, except as an artifact of the novelist’s ambition to A novel scrapbooked from research. For the first 100 pages I was thinking that this may be Richler’s masterpiece. The ambition of it just that impressive. By page 200 I was tiring of his voice and losing the narrative thread. By page 300 his style was getting truly annoying, his penchant for stereotypes and his sarcastic humour. There's literally no one to like or care about in the story. I finished reading with little interest in the outcome, except as an artifact of the novelist’s ambition to imaginatively describe the Jewish experience in the context of Canadian history. The problem is that so many of the characters are transparently drawn from actual people (the Bronfmans, senator Leo Kolber, the great Montreal poet and novelist A.M. Klein) that one is left with a sense that Richler’s fictionalizing is more self-indulgent than illuminating, and adds very little to the real people and their fascinating true stories. In fact the novel distracts and does a disservice to them. Anyway, that’s the sense I got.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I enjoyed this book a lot. The way the story was told took a bit to get into, and some of the time jumping was jarring at times, but the Gursky family's intrigue was fascinating. I did not love the ending, as I felt it was somewhat hurriedly wrapped up. It was also not completely definitive what had happened which left me somewhat unsatisfied. But the rest was great. The build up to knowing what had happened to Solomon, the way the story of Ephraim was woven into it all. I do wish Morrie's chara I enjoyed this book a lot. The way the story was told took a bit to get into, and some of the time jumping was jarring at times, but the Gursky family's intrigue was fascinating. I did not love the ending, as I felt it was somewhat hurriedly wrapped up. It was also not completely definitive what had happened which left me somewhat unsatisfied. But the rest was great. The build up to knowing what had happened to Solomon, the way the story of Ephraim was woven into it all. I do wish Morrie's character had been developed a bit more on the page instead of realizing there was so much more to him after the fact.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    This isn't the kind of book I typically gravitate towards. Novels with this kind of structure just aren't my thing. But I really loved Richler's prose, and it was fun to experience pieces of Montreal and the surrounding area in the time capsule of this book. There are also definitely a few pieces throughout that brought home exactly why the good people of Montreal decided all the comemoration this man deserved was a rundown gazebo. Hilarious stuff. Not sure I would recommend this novel to most, This isn't the kind of book I typically gravitate towards. Novels with this kind of structure just aren't my thing. But I really loved Richler's prose, and it was fun to experience pieces of Montreal and the surrounding area in the time capsule of this book. There are also definitely a few pieces throughout that brought home exactly why the good people of Montreal decided all the comemoration this man deserved was a rundown gazebo. Hilarious stuff. Not sure I would recommend this novel to most, but it definitely has me interested in checking out more of his work.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    The family tree is helpful, but a solid friends- and acquaintances tree might have come in handy as well. Filled to the brim with various characters (many of them very colourful, I admit, but they were extremely numerous as well) and switching back and forth endlessly between remote past, past and present, this novel had me turning back pages more often than I liked. However, it's quite entertaining, funny and well written, and a bit of a detective story as well. There's just this one thing... T The family tree is helpful, but a solid friends- and acquaintances tree might have come in handy as well. Filled to the brim with various characters (many of them very colourful, I admit, but they were extremely numerous as well) and switching back and forth endlessly between remote past, past and present, this novel had me turning back pages more often than I liked. However, it's quite entertaining, funny and well written, and a bit of a detective story as well. There's just this one thing... The length! It could have done with a hundred pages less, I think.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Long, with a huge cast of characters and multiple time lines made this one a challenge to read. However, it is inventive, comical, ironic, perceptive, intelligent, and so once I caught on to the overarching storyline, it was interesting. I liked the weaving in of Franklin expedition, the slightly mystical/mythical Raven, plus the Indigenous culture (written before Reconciliation) and Judaism/anti-Semitism in the mostly Quebec setting. A solid piece of Canadian literature.

  30. 4 out of 5

    v zenari

    I have tried Mordecai Richler and failed. He can be quite funny, yes, and I like the idea of a Jewish trickster. I don’t have the patience, though, for the machismo and the repetitive details around the crotchety Magog community and the garrulous, backstabbing Gurskys. Since I don’t share Richler’s obsessions with wealth, big boobs and knockdowns of Quebecois culture, I found the book a slog.

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