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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BOOK REVIEW: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma DonoghueRoom
By Emma Donoghue
Completed June 21, 2011

This book has been well reviewed and analyzed by literary critics and book bloggers alike. It’s a hard book to summarize because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. So, for this review, I will just share some thoughts on this story:

1) Room is narrated by a five-year-old boy who only knows an 11×11-foot room as his home. He doesn’t understand that rain falls from the sky, that cars stay in their lane and that bees can sting you. All the things we understand to be true in our lives would be new experiences to a boy who never spent a day outside.  Donoghue did a good job writing about these new experiences – and coming up with all the “little things” that seem to be common knowledge, but not for a boy who lived in seclusion.

2) The American media’s treatment of Jack and his mother’s story was spot on. Their insistence to not grant this family any privacy reminded me of true media coverage in other heart-wrenching stories. Equally compelling (and so aligned with what happens) is how the media digs at the story from all angles in an attempt to “outscoop” each other. There is little regard for what’s best for Jack or his mother.

3) This book was a real page turner. During one section of the book, I did not move from my seat. I was worried that something bad was going to happen, and the suspense was jarring. Few books have that effect on me.

This isn’t my typical review, but I hope reading it helps persuade you to give Room a try. It’s a compelling, provocative book that makes you think about your life and what you would do in a similar situation. It’s worthy of its literary accolades, and I predict that it would make a good movie with the right director and actors. What do you think? (  )

Want to win a copy of Room? This book and others will be part of the Orange July book giveaways.  Click here to learn more.

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