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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Canadian author Richler dies
Mordecai Richler
Richler was one of Canada's most respected writers
By Mike Fox in Montreal

The Canadian author and journalist Mordecai Richler has died at the age of 70.

He wrote many best-selling novels, including The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, but he also played a significant and controversial role in the debates over whether Quebec should separate from the rest of Canada.

Mordecai Richler had been struggling against cancer for some time.

In 1998 he lost a kidney, and last week it was announced that he was undergoing chemotherapy for the second time in three years, with the cancer apparently having spread to his other kidney.

Prize winning

He was one of Canada's most respected novelists of the modern era, but he only gained his literary reputation after emigrating to London as a young man.

His books paint a vivid picture of life as a Jew in Montreal, in the days when they suffered considerable prejudice.

He won several Canadian awards for his books, and was twice listed for the prestigious Booker Prize.

He returned to Montreal in the 1970s, just as the Parti Quebecois was coming to power on a manifesto of winning independence from Canada.

Acerbic satire

At first he had considerable sympathy with their ideals. As a fellow outsider he could see the logic behind the French majority, claiming that they should gain greater political power, such as the right to use their own language at work and when out shopping.

But he quickly turned his acerbic satire against what he saw as the draconian and overly-controlling way the Parti Quebecois implemented its language policies.

Not the least, he raged against the Office de la Langue Francaise, which fined shops that used English in their signs.

His attacks played a significant role in the arguments during the unsuccessful Quebec referendums on independence in 1980 and 1995.

Last week, a Canadian news magazine described him as one of Canada's greatest defenders. But his wider reputation will rest on the wit and humorous quality of his novels.

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