BOOK REVIEW: The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

The Clothes on Their BacksThe Clothes on Their Backs
By Linda Grant
Completed November 12, 2012

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. (  )

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Megan
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 08:26:17

    This book is waiting patiently on my shelves for me to get around to reading it. Sounds like I’d better get to it soon!

    Reply

  2. Dee Ingram
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 20:49:27

    I wasn’t planning to read any more Linda Grant after being unconvinced by the two of hers that I’ve read but that one does sound interesting.

    Reply

  3. JoV
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 06:59:41

    I love everything Linda Grant has written and have read this book, We Had it so Good and When We lived through modern times. All beautiful for me!

    Reply

  4. kheenand
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 18:43:08

    Haven’t heard of this one before but it sounds interesting.

    Reply

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