Monday 15 February 2016

The clothes on their backs - Linda Grant

Vivien Kovacs, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents, who conceal the details of their history and shy away from any encounter with the outside world. She learns how to navigate British society from an eccentric cast of neighbors -- including a fading ballerina, a cartoonist, and a sad woman who wanders the city and teaches Vivien to be beautiful. She loses herself in books and reinvents herself according to her favorite characters, but it is through clothes that she ultimately defines herself. 

Against her father's wishes, she forges a relationship with her uncle, a notorious criminal and slum landlord, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he exposes the truth about her family's past Vivien learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world. 

My thoughts:
This was one of those, oh what to call it, calm ones, not slow, just silently being there. A story that just happens, but one I could not put down.

Vivien grows up in postwar London. Her parents are Hungarian immigrants who fled before the war broke out. She knows nothing about their past. She loves books, she loves clothes, and she does not want to be like them always inside, always careful. It's the story of her growing up.

But that is not the whole story. She is curious and she reaches out to the uncle her parents does not speak about. And the second story begins, the story about his life, and the life she did not know her dad had. And all those little things that makes sense now. 

The story of life in Hungary could have been a story in itself. War, persecution, starvation. You name it. But then I liked Vivien and the flashbacks to that life. I liked the calm way it was told, fine, slow way it was told, but it's not slow! I did finish it in a day.

A well told story.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 1st 2009 by Virago Press (UK) (first published October 2nd 2008)


  1. This sounds like a very engaging book.

  2. My kind of lit fiction, more contemplative and not bombastic

  3. I like quiet novels. Makes you appreciate the characters even more.

  4. I totally know what you mean by calm read. And those are really enjoyable sometimes.

  5. February 2016 is not my favorite month ever, that's for sure. Hi! Random! :D

  6. Hmmm.... this wasn't at all what I was expecting when I saw the cover. Sounds compelling tho!

  7. I love reading stories like this, especially when its so well written!!

  8. Sounds interesting how it was slow, but still interesting. Normally when a story is slow, it is boring. Glad you still enjoyed it.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

  9. This sounds like something I would like.

  10. Oh this might be something I would really enjoy. It is different than the cover suggests.

  11. I know what you mean, you slip in and enjoy but there is no rush or stress..

  12. Hmm this one sounds like a really good read - glad you enjoyed it.

  13. Not my usual fare, but I am intrigued by its literary tone.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

  14. Oh... This is such an interesting book. I am not so much into books like this (genre for instance) and post-war stories but this, this catch me off guard, thanks to your great review. And hopefully when I'm to read it, I'll be able to finish. it in a day. :)

    Yani @ Paper Boulevard

    1. No lit fic at all? I need a bit of lit fic now and again :)

  15. it looks like a really interesting book, not something you find everyday

  16. A story within a story and with Hungarians as the characters. Sounds good!

  17. Makes me curious about the stories her uncle had to tell. Glad you enjoyed it. :-)

  18. I love this kind of fiction, so I'm gonna take a peak at my library's list to see if they have it. Great review!



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