Read A Choice of Enemies Online

Authors: Mordecai Richler

Tags: #Humorous, #Literary, #Fiction, #General

A Choice of Enemies

BOOK: A Choice of Enemies
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


The Acrobats
Son of a Smaller Hero
A Choice of Enemies
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
The Incomparable Atuk
The Street
St. Urbain’s Horseman
Joshua Then and Now
Solomon Gursky Was Here
Barney’s Version
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang
Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur
Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case
Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!:
Requiem for a Divided Country
This Year in Jerusalem
Images of Spain
Hunting Tigers Under Glass: Essays and Reports
Shovelling Trouble
Notes on an Endangered Species and Others
The Great Comic Book Heroes and Other Essays
Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album
Broadsides: Reviews and Opinions
Belling the Cat: Essays, Reports, and Opinions
On Snooker: The Game and the Characters Who Play It
Dispatches from the Sporting Life
The Best of Modern Humour
Writers on World War II

Copyright © 1957 by Mordecai Richler
Copyright © 2002 by Mordecai Richler Productions, Inc.

First published by Andre Deutsch, 1957
First Emblem Editions publication 2002

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

Richler, Mordecai, 1931-2001
A choice of enemies

eISBN: 978-1-55199-558-8

I. Title.

PS8535.138C48 2002    c813’.54    C2001-904144-6
PR9199.3.R5C48 2002

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program for our publishing activities. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.

The characters and events in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance they have to people and events in life is purely coincidental.

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5A 2P9


For Joyce Weiner



Other Books by This Author

Title Page



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

About the Author


kilometres from Berlin, when the truck emerged so inexplicably out of nowhere that it seemed to have been created by the rain itself. Ernst waved. The truck stopped. He jumped in beside the driver.

“Where are you going?”

“Berlin,” Ernst said, slamming the door.

“Have you a travel permit?”

Ernst pointed to the
badge on his jacket lapel.

Heinz indicated his own badge, “Friends of the Soviet Union,” and said, “If you don’t mind, I would like to see your permit anyway.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Ernst wiped his dripping head with his sleeve. “All members of the Central Cultural Group of the
must be at the Lustgarten by four this afternoon. I’m late as it is, so please hurry.”

The truck swished ahead into the rain again.

“As you can see,” Heinz said, “I don’t pick up people without checking. After that mess provoked by fascist agents in Berlin I decided to follow all regulations to the letter. Heinz, I said to myself, Heinz Baumann, you cannot be too careful.”

“Admirable of you.”

“Heinz, I said to myself, these woods are crawling with bastards trying to sneak into the West. You cannot be too careful, Heinz.”

“Thank God for the road blocks,” Ernst said.

Heinz had a red pockmarked face. He seemed to Ernst to be the simple sum of all the thick, docile women, beer and sausages he had consumed. Ernst glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder. The truck was carrying paint. But there was a box covered by a tarpaulin hidden behind Heinz’s seat.

“We want to be one nation bound by brotherhood,” Heinz said.


“If the West rearms all the old boys will come back again.”


“It’s good to see our youngsters in such a hurry to get to political meetings. In the West boys your age are bikini-ists.”

Ernst didn’t reply.

“Germany should sit at one table.”

No answer again. Ernst had fallen asleep.

Heinz tugged at his cap and cursed the windshield wipers and, more impersonally, his luck. He began to hum an old Afrika Korps marching song. The rain gradually softened into a drizzle and the truck began to pick up speed. Looking the pale skinny boy over again Heinz decided that in the old days he had cut a finer figure. Not that he had anything against the present regime. A man could earn a living anyway. Better the
than the old crowd.

“Where are we?” Ernst asked.

“Did you have a good sleep?”

“Yes,” he said. “Where are we?”

“Take it easy.” Heinz glanced at Ernst’s boots. “We don’t reach the check point for another ten minutes.”

“I’ll get off here, if you don’t mind, and catch a train into the city.”

“How did you get the mud on your boots?”

Ernst froze. He felt inside his jacket cautiously. He wore a knife strapped inside.

“Let’s see your papers.”

“Don’t be a fool. If you turn me in at the check point I’ll say you were helping me.”

“Who said I was going to turn you in?”

“I’m telling you just once more. I’m in a hurry.”

“Everybody’s in a hurry these days.”

“All right,” Ernst said. “I insist you take me to the check point. But don’t think I didn’t notice the eggs and butter in the back. Profiteering will interest the
, I’m sure.”

The truck coughed to a stop and Ernst opened the door and leaped out.

“I wasn’t going to turn you in,” Heinz shouted. “I was only teasing.”

Ernst ran, he stumbled, he broke for the woods again.

“You should have trusted me,” Heinz shouted after him. “I could have … helped.…”

But Ernst was gone.


The visitor from Toronto, a short, squat, bearded man with an unused boyish face – his name was Thomas Hale – smothered the door knob in a hairy wad of fist and, his smile muddy with assurance, said to his host once more:

“You ought to come home –”

It was four a.m. and his host, Norman Price, was awfully tired.

“– Europe’s had it, Norman. England’s not a battlefield any more, but a playground for sentimental, visiting Canadians like myself. Nothing more is going to happen here, except that Churchill will die. But in Canada –”

Norman glanced at his watch. “I wish we could talk some more,” he said, “but your taxi is waiting downstairs.”

“It’s a pity. A waste. You ought to come home and teach.”

Hale, Norman thought, is what the obituary writers mean when they call somebody “a fighting cock,” but Norman was fond of him all the same. Hale was a magazine editor. A fierce champion of periphery causes, he had, for instance, taken an outspoken stand against capital punishment. Yet, even if Hale hastily rejected anything that might impose on his slippered ease, he was also unfailingly decent. You couldn’t dislike him simply because he was cautious.

“Your taxi is –”

“Well,” Thomas Hale said warmly, “see you next year, I hope.”

Norman raised his glass. “To next year in Toronto,” he said.

Hale gone at last, Norman returned to his smoke-filled living room and slumped back in his chair. Norman was thin, a little taller than average, with a long narrow face. His black curly hair, already grey around the temples, was beginning to recede. His steel-rimmed glasses made him look rather solemn. Norman, in fact, was extremely self-conscious about what people told him was his remote expression, his severe face, and so, hoping to please, he smiled often. His smile was shy, hesitant, and gentle. But a smile on his face, like a sun in the London sky, was so incongruous that it startled rather than pleased. “A spectre is haunting Swiss Cottage,” Winkleman had once said. “It is the spectre of Norm’s
conscience.” Norman was thirty-eight; he was thickening around the waist.

Whenever Norman thought of his country he did not, as Americans were supposed to do, recall with a whack of joy the wildest rivers and fastest trains, fields of corn, skyscrapers, and the rest of it. There were all these things in his country. There were magical names in abundance. A town called Trois-Rivières; a mountain pass named Kicking Horse; Saskatchewan – a province. But there was no equivalent of the American dream to boost or knock. The Canadian dream, if there was such a puff, was how do I get out?

I got out early, Norman thought.

Norman had been eighteen when he had come to study at Cambridge. He had been back to Canada many times since, for
periods of from one month to a year, but after he had resigned his job at an American university four years ago he had come back to London again.

Norman thought he was doing very well. That’s why he was so annoyed with Hale. For looking over his hard-come-by Kensington Church Street flat with Hale’s Canadian eye he was aware for the first time of the chipped bureau, the frayed sofa, and the absence of a Frigidaire, television set, and deep-freeze. What only this morning had seemed very cosy indeed now struck Norman as seedy. He cursed Hale. This morning he had been proud to think that here he was an academician, a disgraced professor, doing reasonably well as a writer of thrillers and the occasional film script. But Hale wasn’t impressed. I’m decadent, he thinks. Me, Norman thought, decadent. Jesus.

Feeling better, he went out for a walk.

Norman, unlike the other
, had taken London to his heart. It didn’t yield itself to strangers with nearly so much ease as Paris, but in the end the city’s beneficence, its quality of being used, feasible, sane, took you prisoner. New York was more spectacular, but London, perhaps because you were not the saint or irresistible lover you longed to be, was the more reassuringly human. Greatness and power and youth had passed: the city, like you, was relieved.

Norman remembered a more febrile London. The London of blackouts and dancing the raids through at the Dorchester and the boys you flew with going down one after another. Whenever he recalled his crash he remembered that he had tried to shield his face from the flames even before his groin, as though he would rather have suffered impotency than a disfigurement he couldn’t conceal from society. There was something else. He had not prayed.

When he had suffered his first failure of memory, about two months after his crash, he had put himself in the hands of the psychiatrists. A month later he had been discharged. But there had been other lapses. One had lasted nine days. They said his amnesia was not organic; it
was functional, of the fugue type, and inexplicable. So some time ago Norman had resolved to keep his life free of disturbances.

BOOK: A Choice of Enemies
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Leaving of Things by Antani, Jay
Tempting the Bride by Sherry Thomas
Good Harbor by Anita Diamant
My Deja Vu Lover by Phoebe Matthews
Gateway to HeVan by Lucy Kelly