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The Clothes On Their Backs: A Novel by Linda…
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The Clothes On Their Backs: A Novel (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Linda Grant

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5302819,020 (3.42)127
Member:Milda-TX
Title:The Clothes On Their Backs: A Novel
Authors:Linda Grant
Info:Scribner (2008), Hardcover, 293 pages
Collections:To read
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The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant (2008)

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The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

Vivien, our protagonist, is a young sheltered woman who has lived her youth in the care of her meek & cloistered parents who are Hungarian refugees of their war torn homeland. To her knowledge there are just the three of them.
Eventually she realizes that she has an uncle. Her father's estranged brother who also came to the new country to make his fortune. And make it he did until he was found out by the housing authorities and arrested for his slumlord activities. By the time that Vivien, unknowingly to her parents, makes his acquaintance he has spent many years in prison. She is fascinated by the fact that here is a relative of hers and she wants to get to know him but they each keep secret from the other that they know who the other is. He wants to write his memoirs and needs a typist. She goes to work for him typing up the notes that he speaks into a tape recorder.
Her parents of course flip out when they find out and so it goes.
I know from the title & from reading other reviews that our Vivien invents & reinvents herself through the clothes & outfits that she puts together & wears. But this ploy didn't work for me. I have read Grant before & loved what I read. This time I just liked it. I liked the premise of the story but thought that it took an awfully long time to be told, longer than my interest actually held. ( )
3 vote rainpebble | Aug 27, 2013 |
A very unusual book. It is about Jewish immigrants. Two brothers: one called Ervin is timid in his new home, London. He almost forgets to live. And second brother Sandor who is brash is treated as a small-time slum lord. He is greeted by media frenzy as a criminal. Both brothers are estranged. Ervin tries to make life away from shadow of his brother Sandor.

However, Ervin's daughter finds Sandor to seek out her family history. Book is about an immigrant's life and explains Jewish Hungarian life well.

( )
  poonamsharma | Apr 6, 2013 |
The Clothes on Their Backs is the Orange- and Booker-nominated book by Linda Grant - and it's certainly worthy of its accolades. Set in London during the 1970's, it's an enthralling look at family relationships, war and growing up in the shadow of family secrets.

Vivien Kovacs is the daughter of her reclusive, refugee parents, who emigrated from Hungary to London during World War II. Vivien's parents shielded her from life's experiences, including a complete avoidance of Vivien's uncle Sandor, who also lived in England after the war. Once Vivien graduated from college, she became more and more curious about her mysterious uncle, who had served time in prison for being a "slum lord." She finally got an opportunity to meet him and forged a relationship with her uncle, despite her father's wishes.

I can't say Vivien was the most likable character, but she was very believable. She was flawed and human, like her uncle. I was most intrigued, though, by Vivien's mother, Berta. She was a minor character in the book, but Grant left enough of a breadcrumb trail to make you wonder more about her. I think there was more there than met the eye.

The Clothes on Their Backs is a superb telling of the World War II refugee experience and the circumstances of family secrets. Most skeletons find their way out of the closet, and Vivien's family was no exception. Grant had me at Word One, and I devoured this novel, eager to learn more about Vivien and her family. I was slightly dissatisfied with the ending, especially the death of Uncle Sandor, but this is a small quibble. All in all, The Clothes on Their Backs was a readable and fascinating story about family relationships. ( )
2 vote mrstreme | Nov 13, 2012 |
It was a lovely story how Vivien learned about her origin and her ancestors. Her parents were early refugees from Hungary whereas her uncle her father's brother was coming to London much later. Her parents were always worried about being sent back to Hungary. So they decided to cut off their past and to keep by themselves so there would never be a reason for sending them back to Hungary. Therefore they changed their family name and never told a word about their earlier life to Vivien. Vivien's uncle was the contrary of her parents. He was open minded and with his dark busyness he was walking mostly on the other side of the law. From him she learned all about her ancestry. ( )
  Ameise1 | Nov 7, 2012 |
An enjoyable read about a woman growing up in London with her Jewish-Hungarian parents who are reluctant to live a full life. While avid to live her own life, she gets to know her uncle who's nver been mentioned by her parents because of his "bad influence". Their history haunts them as the skinheads in London become more and more agressive.
I like this story and the way the main character rather dryly describes her past and the discovery of her uncle and his story. I thought she was a very credible character, being the daughter of these parents and growing up the way she does. She may not have been the most likeable person but she felt real to me. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Jun 13, 2012 |
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Epigraph
But this is the soul
Prepared for you, these garments that glow
In the dark and burn as fierce as coal.

George Szirtes, from 'Dressing'
Dedication
To George Szirtes and Clarissa Upchurch
First words
This morning, for the first time in many years, I passed the shop on Seymour Street.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Vivien Kovacs, sensitive and bookish, grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents. She loves herself in books and reinvents herself according to her favorite characters, but it is through clothes that she ultimately finds herself. Against her father's wishes, she forges a relationship with her estranged uncle, a notorious criminal, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he reveals the truth about her family's past Vivien, having endured unbearable loss, learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world. Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman and a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present.
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A powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present. A woman, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals.

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