Monday, 26 October 2015

Golden Phoenix in a Week: Day One (chapters 1-7)

It's been awhile, but I feel no guilt. This summer I tackled Raleigh on the Rocks all of Raleigh on the Rocks, even the parts Rohmer didn't write (which is most of the book). You two will find it's the most challenging Rohmer yet. I won't be surprised if it turns out Practice and Procedure Before the Ontario Highway Transport Board is easier.

This morning, I started in on the Rohmer's 1997 Golden Phoenix: The Biography of Peter Munk. I'm quite enjoying it. Some of the pleasure has to do with the simple fact that Peter Munk isn't E.P. Taylor, but mostly it's because Golden Phoenix isn't E.P. Taylor. You'll find it a better written book. You'll also find Munk more inspiring and interesting; after all, in Clairtone he actually built something. Taylor can't make any similar claim.

I've got Golden Phoenix on interlibrary loan. It's due back next week, so I'm going to plow ahead by reading fifty or sixty pages a day. I'll be recording a few unfocused observations, but little more. I doubt there'll be much in the way of spoilers. I'll flag 'em if I see 'em.

The first thing you'll notice with Golden Phoenix is that as a physical object it is Richard Rohmer's most attractive book. The eighteen-year-old library copy I'm reading, courtesy of neighbouring Huron County, records that I'm the second borrower. The first was in July 1999. Here's to the Huron County Library for keeping the faith!

A couple of cursory notes:
  • Golden Phoenix features no bibliography (typical of Rohmer);
  • Golden Phoenix features no endnotes (typical of Rohmer);
  • Golden Phoenix features no acknowledgements (atypical of Rohmer).
Today I read chapters one through seven, taking Peter Munk from his childhood in wartime Budapest to Toronto, the University of Toronto and the spectacular rise of Clairtone.

My casual observations (peppered with lazy queries):
  • Dealing in rare stamps, nylon stockings and foreign currency smuggled across borders sure sounds like black market activity to me.
  • "Peter was falling in love, and was happily aware that Linda's father, Bill Gutterson, was a wealthy pharmaceutical entrepreneur." With one exception, I can't say I really knew (or cared) what my old girlfriends' parents did for a living.
  • As with his other books, most notably E.P. Taylor, Rohmer is blind when it comes to privilege. Here we have Munk's business partner "pencil-thin" David Gilmour described as someone who "had advantages slightly beyond the norm". We'll later learn that he was the son of a director at Nesbitt Thomson, a connection that opened doors  – "but not a deal-maker", Rohmer is quick to point out.
  • As always, Rohmer has trouble in identifying the relevant. A man named Gerry Heifetz served as best man at Munk's wedding, and is never mentioned again. In contrast, David Gilmour's wealthy father is alive in September 1958, but dies at some point before April 1960. When did he die? Might an inheritance have played a part in supporting the early days of Clairtone? 
  • Regarding the 1958 visit to the Soviet Union, I can find no trace of Linda Munk's "series of articles for the Globe and Mail about their experiences". She did have a letter to the editor published in the 30 November 1956 edition, however. It dealt with Hungarian refugees coming to Canada.
  • Is Peter Munk's name really "Peter Munk"? It seems remarkably plain, particularly for one born to an "old and respected Jewish family".
Told you it would be unfocused.

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