The Clothes on Their Backs

The Clothes on Their Backs

A Novel

Book - 2008
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Baker & Taylor
Vivien Kovacs, the sensitive daughter of Hungarian immigrant parents who refuse to engage with the outside world, learns to navigate British society with the help of eccentric neighbors and her uncle, who shares the secrets of her family's past with her.

Simon and Schuster
Orange Prize winner and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, Linda Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman who, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals. In vivid and supple prose, Grant subtly constructs a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present.

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.

Grant is a spectacularly humanizing writer whose morally complex characters explore the line between selfishness and self-preservation.

Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2008
Edition: First Scribner ed
ISBN: 9781439143193
Branch Call Number: Fiction Grant
Characteristics: 293 p. ; 23 cm


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WVMLStaffPicks Oct 27, 2014

Vivian, a quiet girl, was raised by fearful, refugee parents who sheltered her from their past and her only living relative: the glamorous and infamous Uncle Sándor. She becomes entwined with her uncle and tries on personas and fashions until she finally uncovers her sense of self.

patienceandfortitude Mar 04, 2014

This was a well-written and morally complex story, about a woman whose family were Hungarian Jews who created new lives for themselves in London. Her parents create a safe and secure environment for themselves and try to protect her from the past. Her uncle wheels and deals and goes to jail as a slum lord, but winds up being a sympathetic person. Much to consider.

Jan 08, 2014

From 1950s London to the present day, this book is about the clothes we choose to wear, personalities we dress in, and how they define us.


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