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Solomon Gursky Was Here
Solomon Gursky Was Here is an epic novel spanning nearly a century and a half, from the mid 1800's to 1980's. It is the story of the obsession of Moses Berger, a Rhodes scholar turned alcoholic, with Solomon Gursky, the charismatic son of a poor immigrant. Solomon, with his brother Bernard and Morrie, built the massive liquor empire of McTavish industries. Moses is attempting to write a biography of Solomon, which becomes his life's work. Through his investigations the complex story of five generations of Gurskys is revealed. The eldest is Ephraim, Solomon'scriminal, perpetually scheming grandfather. Ephraim, is constantly associated with the raven, he escaped imprisonment in England in the mid 1800's by forging documents, also allowing him to join a crew searching for the Northwest passage, called the Franklin Epedition. The expedition turned into a total disaster, Ephraim, the sole survivor. The youngest Gursky appearing in this story is Isaac, Solomon's grandson. This complex tale unravels, as Moses recalls, all of the events in his life which pertain to it. Ever present in this Canadian cultural satire is the theme of filial relationships and the exploration of Solomon and his re-incarnation as Sir Hyman Kaplansky, in conjunction with his family and their exploits. Every character in this novel is in some way corrupt or failure. Moses is an alcoholic who did not live up to his potential; Bernard is a greedy self-centered bastard;
Solomon is a cheat, when it comes to gambling, women and anything else you can think of. Richler, through this exaggeration of corruption and failure, is satirizing the idea that Canada is a second rate nation. One character, in conversation with Moses, once said:
"Canada is not so much a country as a holding tank filled with the disgruntled progeny of defeated peoples. The French-Canadians consumed by self-pity; the descendants of Scots who fled the Duke of Chamberlain; Irish the famine; and Jews the black hundreds. Then there are the peasants from the Ukraine, Poland , Italy and Greece, convenient to grow wheat and dig out ore and swing the hammers and run the restaurants, but otherwise to be kept in their place . Most of us are still huddled tight to the border, looking into the candy store window, scared by the Americans on one side and the bush on the other."(P.'s398-399)
This says, in no uncertain terms, that Canada is compromised of people not worthy of other countries. The satirical nature of this statement is alluded to by harsh words, such as "holding tank" and "scared". Also by impersonal words, such as "progeny". Most Canadians do not, as this says, envy the Americans and think of America as a "candy store". Richler is attacking some typical stereotypes of Canada and Canadians by exemplifying them.
Moses, who is Richler's voice in the novel, exhibits many autobiographical characteristics: English speaking resident of Montreal, raised on Jean Mance street. He has a strong religious backround (Jewish), smokes a cigars, writes professionally and lived in London, England for a period. Moses and his father L.B. do not get along well. L.B., a failed poet, is resentful of his son's literary talent. This leads to leads to L.B. treating his son with contempt. On one occasion, Moses, home from school at Balliol, tells LB that he submitted a short story, which LB said "showed promise"(p.129), to "the New Yorker. L.B. belittled Moses for his attempt which he suspected to fail and demanded that he be given the mail upon it's arrival, to open it in private. When the package from "the New Yorker" arrived, L.B. opened and read it in private, then later invited Moses into the room. L.B. proceeded to tell Moses that he also had been rejected by "editors who print crap, so long as it is written by their friends, but who couldn't tell Pushkin from Ogden Nash."(P. 132). Moses later learned that the magazine had accepted his story and had sent it back requesting a few small revisions. He, supposedly, ha d written back saying "'the New Yorker' regularly prints crap so long as it is written by their friends, they couldn't tell Pushkin fro
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