Vivien is the daughter of Jewish immigrants to Britain from Hungary, whose wartime experiences have caused them to retreat into their shells (in their case, a London apartment in the 1970s) and never talk about the past. After experiencing a terrible personal tragedy of her own, Vivien rediscovers her disreputable uncle, Sandor, who has reinvented himself as a slum landlord in London. Sandor is also a survivor – of the Holocaust and of life itself – and the novel follows the development of her relationship with her uncle, her parents, and her new lover, who is one of Sandor’s tenants.
I loved The Clothes on their Backs and Linda Grant’s ability to integrate the two stories she’s telling (that of Vivien and that of Sandor and her parents). Although her depictions of grief are heartrending, she’s also very good at comedy.
(Read from January 25-26, 2010)