If I were to base my opinion of Jewish people solely on Mordechai Richler’s “Son of a Smaller Hero”, I would probably start wearing a Swastika on my arm and pledging my allegiance to the fuehrer. Richler characterizes Jews as a people who have an enormous lust for money, women, and power. Richler delivers a piece that seems the complete antithesis of his origional novel. While he crammed his former novel with soft-spoken words, which displayed his passion to inform on useful subjects, “Hero” blows its readers away by its directness and disregard of political correctness.
It tells the story of Noah Adler, a young Jewish man who feels trapped by his ghetto upbringing. He comes from a family controlled by his grandfather Melech Adler. Melech’s observance of the Jewish law turns Noah off of Judaism. He leaves the family and their business, to drive a cab and attend university. Noah’s departure from his family includes one from his religion as well. Once on his own, he is faced with a life unknown to him, and his morals and ethical standards are continually challenged. As he resolves his on going battles with his grandfather, he begins to realize that there is much more to Judaism then he originally though.
Apart from Noah’s growing relationship with his grandfather, we see little character development among the novel’s main characters. We are subject to the same comments about the same characters, chapter after chapter. These monotonous descriptions of the characters, while emphasizing characters flaws excellently, become extremely humdrum halfway through the novel.
Although Mordechai Richler did not write this as an autobiography, the book does include numerous elements of his life. He endured the hardships of St. Urban Street and the Montreal ghetto as well. This book, while the first in Richler’s series of “ghetto books”, is the most inclusive about all aspects of life there, from cheap pool room owners, to permanent signs in Jewish stores that read, “Half-Price sale”, or “going out of business, every item must go”. Noah’s relationship with his family also reflects that of Richler’s. His grandfather was a Hassid from Europe who could not accept the new traditions of Canadian Jews, and thus ruled his family with an iron fist to keep them from veering off the path of Jewish morality.
Not everything in the book works perfectly. Noah’s delinquent uncle Shloime, who joins the army does not follow with the description we were first presented with of him. The end of the book is oddly sentimental for a novel that has been occupied with ironical disorder. “Son of A Smaller Hero” is a unique accomplishment for a writer that thought to be perverse in thought. It’s humor and sadness are intertwined just enough to make this novel a one of a kind. I believe that no other can match Richler’s unique style of writing. “Son Of A Smaller Hero”, is an example of Canadian literature at it’s best. It is the kind of work that makes a nation proud to describe themselves as Canadians.