Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravtiz and Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler





About the Author

Mordecai Richler, CC, novelist, essayist, social critic (born 27 January 1931 in Montréal, QC; died 3 July 2001 in Montréal, QC). A singular figure in Canadian literary and cultural history, Richler remained, in the words of critic Robert Fulford, “the loyal opposition to the governing principles of Canadian culture” throughout his long and productive career. His instincts were to ask hard, uncomfortable questions and to take clear, often unpopular moral positions. Born into an Orthodox family in Montréal’s old Jewish neighborhood, a community he immortalized in his work, he was from the start a complex and uncompromising figure, at once rejecting many of the formal tenets of his faith while embracing its intellectual and ethical rigour. That tension, along with an innately absurdist vision of life, a raw, bracing comedic sensibility, and a fearlessness about speaking his mind, as both artist and citizen, ensured that nearly every word he published displayed a distinctive sensibility. No one else sounded like Mordecai Richler, and few other writers in Canada have ever demanded, and maintained, such a high profile as both an admired literary novelist and a frequently controversial critic. A Companion of the Order of Canada, two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award (1968 and 1971), and winner of the Giller Prize, Mordecai Richler is without question one of Canada’s greatest writers.


The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, published in 1959, is a hilarious and rambunctious novel that gives little space to scenery or introspection.

It is the story of Duddy Kravitz, a smart-ass kid with ambition, a fast mouth, and little time for education. Duddy is from Montreal’s Jewish working class St. Urbain Street neighbourhood, where “the boys grew up dirty and sad, spiky also, like grass beside the railroad tracks.”

Early on in the book, Duddy’s grandfather tells Duddy, “A man without land is nobody.’’ Duddy internalizes this, repeats the statement regularly (seven times throughout the book), and devotes his life to becoming a somebody.
He starts off as a teenager selling porn and pilfered hockey sticks to classmates. After high school, he works at a summer resort and, when home, he drives his dad’s taxi during off-hours. Then he begins shooting and selling bar mitzvah movies, showing popular films at summer camps, working as a middleman in the scrap metal racket, and he slowly buys up pieces of land around a hidden lake in the countryside. His dream is to one day build a massive resort on the land and get rich. Everything he does is to that end.

Duddy is an outsider, but this isn’t a story of someone who wants to be accepted by those on the inside; this is a story of a person who wants to be bigger than those on the inside, who wants to show them who’s boss. No matter how hard he hustles, though, he can never get ahead. For everything Duddy earns, he loses something bigger, and the reek of his bitterness permeates the book.
“You lousy, intelligent people! You lying sons-of-bitches with your books and your socialism and your sneers. You give me one long pain in the ass,” Duddy says after his uncle challenges him on his ambition. “…I’m going to own my own place one day. King of the castle, that’s me. And there won’t be any superior drecks there to laugh at me or run me off.”
Duddy is mesmerizing throughout the entirety of the book, but he isn’t a likeable character. He sells out friends, he turns on people, he hits his girlfriend, and he lies and cheats as a matter of course. He thinks he’s bigger than St. Urbain Street, and he’ll do anything to prove it. His uncle fears what Duddy is becoming.

“You’re two people,” he tells Duddy. “The scheming little bastard I saw so easily and the fine, intelligent boy underneath that your grandfather, bless him, saw. But you’re coming of age soon and you’ll have to choose. A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.”
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz shows the process of Duddy murdering those others to become a man, and, at the end of it, he has to choose which version will be spared, the good man who loves his family, or the ambitious man who will climb over people to get what he wants.

Reviews

The New York Times

 

Barney's Version

Barney Panofsky smokes too many cigars, drinks too much whiskey, and is obsessed with two things: the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and his ex-wife Miriam. An acquaintance from his youthful years in Paris, Terry McIver, is about to publish his autobiography. In its pages he accuses Barney of an assortment of sins, including murder. It's time, Barney decides, to present the world with his own version of events. Barney's Version is his memoir, a rambling, digressive rant, full of revisions and factual errors (corrected in footnotes written by his son) and enough insults for everyone, particularly vegetarians and Quebec separatists. But Barney does get around to telling his life story, a desperately funny but sad series of bungled relationships. His first wife, an artist and poet, commits suicide and becomes--à la Sylvia Plath--a feminist icon, and Barney is widely reviled for goading her toward death, if not actually murdering her. He marries the second Mrs. Panofsky, whom he calls a "Jewish-Canadian Princess," as an antidote to the first; it turns out to be a horrible mistake. The third, "Miriam, my heart's desire," is quite possibly his soul mate, but Barney botches this one, too. It's painful to watch him ruin everything, and even more painful to bear witness to his deteriorating memory. The mystery at the heart of Barney's story--did he or did he not kill his friend Boogie?--provides enough forward momentum to propel the reader through endless digressions, all three wives, and every one of Barney's nearly heartbreaking episodes of forgetfulness. Barney's Version, winner of Canada's 1997 Giller Prize, is Richler's 10th novel, and a dense, energetic, and ultimately poignant read.



Reviews

  

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