Every once in a while, I read a book that absolutely blows me away. Sometimes it is the story or the characters but on a rare occasion, it is the whole package. The Clothes On Their Backs is such a book. It is a colourful, vibrant book by Linda Grant and is so powerfully written that I felt at times as if I could taste the story. It is not often that a writer has such a command of the English language that you feel it through each of your senses and I absolutely enjoyed every minute I spent reading this book.
Vivien is the daughter of Hungarian refuges and grows up in a mansion block just off Marylebone Road in London. She is lonely and isolated as her parents hide behind the secrets of their past. One day her uncle Sándor arrives at the door with the promise of history and a sense of family unity. Just why is he so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home then?
The story begins with Vivian’s lonely and bookish childhood and follows as she emerges into womanhood at university and meets her future husband. She somehow finds herself back in London living with her parents when she finally comes into contact with her uncle. As Sándor relays the family history of their migrations to Budapest and then on to England, Vivien finally comes to understand her parents and the secrets that they guard.
The Clothes On Their Backs is a masterfully woven tale that is full of surprises. It is hard to describe such a clever and beautiful book without giving away too many of the twists and turns but it is certainly a book that I would recommend. This is the second book that I have read as part of the West Kent Book Club. The book rated really highly amongst us all for enjoyability, readability and the ability to provoke conversation.
I give the book full marks!