The Clothes On Their Backs – Linda Grant

clothes on their backsREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

Vivien Kovacs is on a search to reveal the truth to the secrets kept from her by her timid Hungarian refugee parents

♥ “Two Jewish brothers are at the heart of this novel. One escapes Hungary prior to the war, marries and neither parent ever reveals their past to their only child, especially not the fact they are Jewish.

“The other brother, Sandor, stays and suffers life in a slave labour camp. His eventual move to the UK sees him became a criminal and a slumlord who has a desire to wipe the slate clean by revealing all to his estranged niece.

“Vivien’s love of clothes and her hobby of trawling second hand stores for stylish, old-fashioned outfits reveals the theme of the novel: being defined by your appearance, or do the clothes maketh the man, or using clothes as a cover for who you really are.

“Sandor challenges Vivien’s ideas around morality, what he has seen and experienced seems to justify his own behaviours. Though Vivien finds his actions difficult to accept she balances her disgust with the joy that she feels in discovering her family history.

But who can really remember pain? It’s impossible, you don’t remember it, you only fear it returning. These thoughts are like stitches – you see together a memory with them and the flesh heals over into a scar. The scar is the memory.

♥ “The relationship between the protagonist and her Uncle holds the story together, but ultimately the book is not about clothes or appearances but a Hungarian and British history. Other plot lines don’t seem as developed, nor do many of the characters. It’s an interesting premise but to me it did seem a bit of an un-Booker Booker shortlister.” – Rachel

Published 2008
293 pages

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