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Cultural Messages In Solomon Gursky Was Here

1401 words - 6 pages

Cultural Messages in 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's criminal, 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 Expedition. 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

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