The Clothes on Their Backs

The Clothes on Their Backs

4.0 8
by Linda Grant
     
 

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Orange Prize Winner and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, Llinda Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman who, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals.

Vivien Kovacs, sensitive and bookish, grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents. She loses herself

Overview

Orange Prize Winner and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, Llinda Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman who, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals.

Vivien Kovacs, sensitive and bookish, grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents. 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 estranged uncle, a notorious criminal, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he reveals the truth about her family’s past, Vivien, having endured unbearable loss, learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world.

Linda Grant is a spectacularly humanizing writer whose morally complex characters explore the line between selfishness and self-preservation. In vivid and supple prose, Grant has created a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There is nothing lightweight about its themes and yet it is so artfully constructed that you barely feel you're reading it at all, so fluid and addictive is the plot." — The Observer

"Gripping and written with keen understatement, it manages to be a domestic coming-of-age story even as it takes in the tumultuous sweep of the twentieth century." — The Evening Standard

"Like money, clothes have real, symbolic and psychological value. Linda Grant understands these dimensions implicitly. Stitched beautifully into the fabric of her latest novel is an acute understanding of the role clothes play in reflecting identity and self-worth.... Grant's own particular beam reveals the way we acquire our sense of self from what gets reflected back to us, either in the mirror or in our relationships with others. She is at home writing about the thrilling ripple of a skirt as she is charting social tensions." — The Sunday Telegraph

"We are what we wear because clothes reveal our personalities but, as Grant makes clear as she guides us through a dizzying ethical maze, they also conceal them....In this meticulously textured and complex novel, beneath Grant's surface dressing, what she is talking about is more than skin deep." — The Sunday Times

"A beautifully detailed character study, a poignant family history, and a richly evocative portrait..." — The Independent

"This vivid, enjoyable and consistently unexpected novel is like Anita Brookner with sex. Sándor's mix of the endearing and the repellent takes on a life beyond that of an absorbing and unexpectedly ambitious story." — The Telegraph

"This is a terrific novel, bursting with life and vivid characters." — The Mail on Sunday

Kirkus Reviews
A brilliant little novel-winner of the Orange Prize-concerning family, memory and transformation. In passing a formerly smart London dress shop now going out of business, Vivien Kovaks runs into the shop proprietor, a former lover of her uncle Sandor, a week after the death of Vivien's father. Grant (When I Lived in Modern Times, 2001, etc.) uses this chance encounter to set the scene for Vivien's reminiscence about her past, a time decades before when she had "learned the only truth that matters: that suffering does not ennoble and that survivors survive because of their strength or cunning or luck, not their goodness, and certainly not their innocence." Vivien sweeps us into a narrative about her parents, Ervin and Berta, refugees from Hungary who moved to London shortly after World War II to start a new life. Vivien is curious about their past because it contains the seeds of her own, but her parents are decidedly reticent about sharing information on their former life, preferring instead to live within a narrowly circumscribed and risk-free circle of silence. Enter Sandor, a flamboyant and successful slumlord who's spent time in gaol for his shady business activities (and who's been labeled "the face of evil" by the London press). He's now out of prison, bent but not broken, and he commissions Vivien to help him write his life story; both are aware of their family connection, yet both keep up the pretense that they're just strangers. Vivien must keep her role of amanuensis secret from her father, who's violently opposed to Sandor's dubious professional activities. Much of the story involves Vivien getting in touch with her own identity by uncovering her father's; by dealing with thefreakish and tragic death of her young husband on their honeymoon; and by engaging in and then walking away from a torrid sexual relationship with a young punk. Intelligent, distinguished and psychologically astute.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439142363
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
11/25/2008
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
618,632
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Linda Grant is a novelist and journalist. She won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage in 2006. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph, and Vogue. She lives
in London.On sale: November

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Clothes on Their Backs 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Clothes On Their Backs is a beautifully written novel, full of memorable prose. Vivien is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who refuse to share their past with her. As a result, Vivien feels robbed of a history, and seeks to learn about her family from her Uncle, a convicted criminal, and in the minds of some, the face of evil. the book is full of memorable characters and touching personal histories that you'll remember long after the reading is done. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Still waiting for the family history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While not always historically correct,and the title is a bit misleading (you think it might be a story about a fashion designer or that industry), 'The Clothes Off Their Backs' is engaging, with plot twists that are clever. The main character is not likable, and the supporting characters could use a bit more development, but is was entertaining, and I found that I could not put it down once I had started reading it. It definitely a candidate for a made-for-TV movie special feature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HappyBL More than 1 year ago
The story was a good one...however I stumbled through it. Not what I had expected and definately not a feel good book.