Be My Wolff

Publisher: Knopf Canada
Widely heralded for her bestselling first novel (Feed My Dear Dogs) and award-winning stories (Sister Crazy, also nominated for the Orange Prize), Emma Richler finally returns with a dazzling major novel with the power of A.S. Byatt's Possession, the wit and wonder of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life--about a sister and her adopted brother with a one-of-a-kind connection: a profoundly moving, original love story about the unbreakable ties that bind, and the choices we make or create for ourselves.

Zachariah and Rachel are brother and sister. Well, not exactly. They are star-crossed lovers. Well, not exactly. Rachel is the cherished daughter of a Russian family living in London--the richly imagined, mysterious Wolffs; Zach is her parents' adopted son who arrived from the orphanage with one sweater, a head of curls and a dexterous set of fists. As children, they became as close as two people can be. But when they crossed a forbidden line, there was no going back. Now, as an adult, coping with their father's furious rebuttal of Zach, Rachel sets herself the task of inventing a family history for her beloved. And so she brings to life his imagined ancestry--from a tavern-educated boxer in Dickensian times, to a Hussar at the Battle of Borodino during the Napoleonic Wars--even as their troubles in present-day Camden Town build to yet another point of no return. Cartwheeling through history, filled with art and science, fairy tales and folk songs, tsars and foundlings, epic battles in the prize ring and on the Eastern Front, and characters that take over our hearts, Be My Wolff is riveting--wondrous, funny and tragic and of astonishing imagination and beauty.


“Marry me, Rachel.”
“Not yet.”
“Tomorrow, Rachel. Marry me.”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“There is no common blood between us. Say it,” pleads Zachariah.
“There is no common blood between us,” murmurs Rachel.
“I am not your...
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1. Early in the novel, readers are told that “for Rachel Wolff . . . there are patterns everywhere” (4), and Rachel’s father teaches her that patterns are clues. What are some of the patterns that Rachel observes? And what other patterns or motifs emerge throughout the novel? Do you think they serve as...
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“As a member of one of Canada’s most famous literary families, Emma comes by her talent honestly. . . . Rife with Dickensian overtones, the moving novel spans centuries.” —HELLO! Canada

“It’s impossible not to feel the romance of the place while reading Richler’s ambitious new novel . . . [A] feat of pure invention . . . [L]ayers upon layers of characters, folktales and history to sift through. . . . [T]he tapestry Richler weaves is so vivid and full of detail.” —Leah McLaren, The Walrus

“Richler is adept at layering tension and history to create moods and mindsets for her characters. Zach and Rachel’s complex, intense love for each other is the nucleus of the book, and fascinatingly rendered. Their affection is fierce and childlike in its single-mindedness, the kind of feedback loop of pure protectiveness and wonder that’s characteristic of young siblings and teenaged lovers alike. . . . In its best moments, the novel feels like an inventive examination of family, history and memory.” —Emma Healey, National Post

Be My Wolff is a captivating story, rich with European history, intercontinental travel, boxing trivia, sparkling conversation, Slavic folklore, wolf pack patterns and Russian fairy tales. A strikingly unique outing.” —Toronto Star

“[E]xuberant . . . [O]ne can’t help but admire the prodigious imagination and antic energy on display here.” —Quill & Quire

Be My Wolff represents a writer fully coming into her own . . . Richler has come up with a structure that allows her access to all kinds of narrative voices and historical and contemporary byways . . . all within the greater framework of a tender and affecting love story.” —Montreal Gazette

“Emma Richler’s first novel in twelve years, Be My Wolff, cannot be read casually. . . . If you skim through, you will not give this tantalizing tale the justice it deserves. The detail is the novel. . . . Love—a common theme in fiction—is described in a heart-wrenchingly honest way. Richler doesn’t hold anything back. . . . The word Richler uses to describe the process of creating the novel is the same feeling you will experience reading it—‘intense.’ A few words with the author is all you need to see exactly how this book was made; it could only come to exist in such a complex and creative mind.” —Blair Mlotek, Canadian Jewish News

“A powerful story.” —49th Shelf

“An otherwise heartbreaking love story, Be My Wolff keeps the reader at a distance through its style, its interest in scientific fact and in folklore, and its turn always to some story other than the one at hand. [T]he third-person narration is roving and kaleidoscopic. . . . The fractal structure and the timeless feeling the novel creates turned this reader into a pattern seeker, treating all things as meaningfully pointing to some whole. I came to feel deep affection for these Wolffs trapped in their luckless loop, because in all of its parts, Be My Wolff is an exploration of the deep, animal bonds between people. . . . [A]n astounding delight.” —Liz Harmer, author of The Amateurs, Literary Review of Canada

“Erudite, sexy, richly textured and packed with delights. Like Salinger’s Glass family or Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaums, the Wolff siblings seem to crash in on the terrestrial world from some more eccentric orbit.” —Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire 

“[J]ewel-like bits of fable and fact are interwoven with modern-day conversations and the couple’s thoughts. . . . This is heavyweight, challenging fare from Canadian/British novelist Richler, difficult to categorize and even more difficult to shake off. . . . [S]killed literary navigators will appreciate the challenge.” —Library Journal
“Richler’s writing style is exuberant. . . . [T]he best parts of the narrative lie in the quiet moments when Rachel and Zach confront their questionable brand of love and the tumultuous effect it has on their lives and loved ones.” —Publishers Weekly
“Rachel, an artist, and Zach, a former pugilist . . . speak in a crackling lingo that’s rich in languages, history, fairy tales, memories and romantic love. The many, centuries-spanning, highly imagined worlds Richler recreates here . . . depart from and heighten Rachel and Zach’s present-day narrative.” —Booklist


Feed My Dear Dogs tackles a surprisingly difficult subject: how to write about a childhood that is idyllically stable and loving. [Richler] does so with warmth and some brilliant left-field humour.”  —The Guardian

Feed My Dear Dogs is a wonderfully written story of familial love, of change, loss and the ties that bind. . . . One is regretful when this extraordinary novel comes to a close. It is one which lingers in the mind.” —The London Free Press
Feed My Dear Dogs is big, bold, brave, brilliant and very, very funny—a formidable literary achievement. . . . Like Salinger in his Glass family stories, Emma Richler uses immediately recognizable settings and colloquial speech to create a deceptively realistic surface that masks a fundamental fantasy as rich as the Greek myths about return from the underworld or escape from the dark forests of fairy tales.” —Books in Canada

“There is an abundance of energy in Feed My Dear Dogs, a vitality and an emotional depth. . . . Feed My Dear Dogs is an intense and interesting literary project.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“The Weiss clan remains an engaging, individuated family—an art-loving, art-making, frequently funny and sporadically endangered crew; one that could inherit the mantle of Salinger's Glass family. . . . Richler is an antic riffer in the finest jazz tradition.” —The Globe and Mail
“A profoundly moving elegy for lost youth that bristles with intelligence, verve and wit.” —Scotland on Sunday

“In such an inward-looking novel, much depends on the authenticity of the child’s voice. Richler pulls this off with panache; Jem has instant charm.” —Telegraph (UK)

“[Richler] seems to have developed a new type of fiction, one that hangs like a haunting and curiously complex piece of art in the reader’s mind. . . . There are passages that give you goosebumps and there’s some hilarious dialogue. . . . In the same way a photograph or a painting can grab you or disturb you or flood you with sorrow, Feed My Dear Dogs is affecting. You finish it feeling you must hang on to it, even though you don’t quite know why.” —The Vancouver Sun

“Not since Salinger has a writer explored the relationships between children and adults with such grace, tenderness and wistful amusement.” —Carlo Gebler

“It’s a bittersweet family portrait, by turns witty and dark: one of those rare books you just don’t want to end.” —Rachel Seiffert