Your Mouth Is Lovely: A Novel

Your Mouth Is Lovely: A Novel

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by Nancy Richler

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"Miriam is a nineteen-year-old imprisoned in Siberia following the Russian Revolution of 1905. Reaching out to the young daughter whom she gave up at birth, Miriam weaves a haunting tale of life in a small Jewish village during the last days of imperial Russia and of a community caught between the rich yet rigid traditions of the past and the frightening, unfamiliar… See more details below


"Miriam is a nineteen-year-old imprisoned in Siberia following the Russian Revolution of 1905. Reaching out to the young daughter whom she gave up at birth, Miriam weaves a haunting tale of life in a small Jewish village during the last days of imperial Russia and of a community caught between the rich yet rigid traditions of the past and the frightening, unfamiliar ways of a society desperately trying to reinvent itself." Rejected by her suicidal mother and abandoned by her father at birth, Miriam is marked as an outcast in her village from the beginning. Reunited with her father when he marries Tsila, a haughty and complex woman whose beauty has been marred by the hand of divine anger, Miriam searches to unveil the secrets of her birth in a place of mystery and superstition, where everyone seems to know the truth that eludes her.

Editorial Reviews

Vancouver Sun
“Your Mouth Is Lovely is a true achievement - astonishing … thoroughly absorbing … these are characters to relish.”
Quill & Quire
“A rich portrait of the lives of Russian Jewish women … consistently fresh and dynamic … a delight to read”
The New Yorker
This accomplished novel summons up the lost world of the Russian shtetls around the Pripet marshes in Ukraine, and shows how those communities were first changed and then annihilated by the events that led, ultimately, to the Russian Revolution. At the center of Richler's tale is Miriam Lev, whose mother drowned herself when she was a day old, and who at age six is taken in hand by her father's new wife, Tsila, a harsh, beautiful seamstress who teaches Miriam the alphabet and dreams of another life. After an ill-starred and painful series of events, Miriam ends up, at nineteen, in Siberia, having shot an officer of the Tsar at point-blank range. Miriam's hegira is told here as a letter to her own daughter, whom she hasn't seen since she gave birth to her, in prison. Richler's work recalls the stories of Isaac Babel, in which the knowable is charged with mystery.
Publishers Weekly
Like a doomed love affair, the Russian Revolution proceeds according to its own inexorable logic in this haunting U.S. debut by Canadian Richler (Throw Away Angels). Within hours of Miriam Lev's birth into a swampy shtetl in prerevolutionary Minsk, her mother dispatches her to a wet nurse and drowns herself. Six years later, Miriam is halfheartedly reclaimed by her father, Aaron, "the Stutterer," newly married to the young seamstress Tsila. With her grotesque facial birthmark and a disposition "sour as spoiled milk," Tsila fulfills the job requirements for wicked stepmother. But this remarkably complex character educates Miriam "to be a human being among human beings" and instills in her the urge to escape ("Nice is somewhere else"). She also binds Miriam to her own family, especially to her rebellious sister Bayla, now scandalously cohabitating with the agitator Leib in Kiev. Convinced that poverty, pogroms and mounting political unrest are making Russia uninhabitable, Tsila decides they'll emigrate to Argentina. But late in 1904, just months before the outbreak of revolution, she sends Miriam to Kiev to find Bayla a quest that leads to a Siberian political prison. Weaving together political and cultural history, magical realism and the resigned mordancy of Jewish humor, Richler has created a world that seems totally inhabited, but poised to self-destruct. Too many tangential incidents and indistinguishable minor characters crowd the novel, but in Tsila, Bayla and especially in Miriam, Richler has created unforgettable, deeply nuanced characters, freethinking dreamers whose revolutionary activities feel both historically inevitable and mysteriously personal. Agent, Dean Cooke. (Nov. 8) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It's 1911-only six years before the fall of the Russian Empire. And Miriam is writing a journal that she hopes will eventually make its way to her young daughter, living with Miriam's Aunt Bayla in Canada. Unfortunately for Miriam, she is incarcerated in the bleakest Siberian prison camp under a life sentence for having engaged in revolutionary activities. Miriam tells her story in a succession of flashbacks interspersed with the brief journal entries. We are soon drawn in by the peculiar circumstances of Miriam's life-her mother's suicide at her birth; her adoption by a peasant family; readmittance several years later to her father's household with his new wife, Tsila (Bayla's older sister); and then Miriam's journey from the shtetl to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. In Kiev, she believes her life will have a new beginning: "No one knew me in Kiev, no one cared who I was, where I came from. It could be dangerous, I supposed, to be so alone, but I felt no danger, only joy." Instead, she unwittingly gets involved in the revolutionary movement, which is her undoing. Richler has created a vital, credible world that seamlessly demonstrates the interconnectedness of humanity. Such is the power of her craft that Miriam's story transcends the mundane, propelling this magnificent novel into the company of Dickens and Dostoyevski. Richler's first novel, Throw Away Angels, was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award in her native Canada. Recommended without reservation for all fiction collections.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Canadian novelist Richler (Throw Away Angels, not reviewed) fashions a tale of lyric historical suspense out of a Jewish girl�s life--from her stunted beginnings in a late-19th-century Belarussian village to her political arrest during the 1905 Russian Revolution. From a harsh Siberian prison, in 1911, teenaged Miriam relates in flashback the sad story leading to her incarceration for life. Born in the dirt-poor shtetl on the swampy Pripet River, Miriam is doubly cursed: her mother walks into the sea after giving birth to her; and her forbidding stepmother, Tsila, leaves a death scar on her neck from slicing her trachea open when she suffers diphtheria as a child. ("Your mouth is lovely," Tsila tells the child, teaching her to speak.) Miriam grows up under the sour, morbid teachings of Tsila, who scorns the town�s gossips and dreams of a better life outside of Russia. Pogroms descend on defenseless Jewish villages, and insurrection is in the air: by degrees, Miriam is drawn into secret political meetings and running errands for agitators. Sent to Kiev to find her aunt Bayla, who has run off with her suspect fianc�, Leib, Miriam suffers her first imprisonment for dropping pamphlets over the balcony at the opera; soon, thanks to Bayla�s lax supervision, she becomes a member of the Socialist movement. Although well educated and deeply committed, Miriam is young and falls sway to more forceful personalities, like Leib, who seduces her irresponsibly; as a result, her final imprisonment feels arbitrary and unreal. Richler has done admirable research (she lists reams of sources in the back); her novel�s strength lies in the quietly assured detail of Miriam�s peasant family beginnings. Therevolutionaries, inevitably, spout rather uninteresting slogans, and the ending rushes to a neat conclusion. The rare woman revolutionary has her day in a story written with tremendous conviction and feeling.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Ecco Paperback
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Meet the Author

NANCY RICHLER’s short fiction has been published in various American and Canadian literary journals, including Room of One’s Own, The New Quarterly, Prairie Fire, Another Chicago Magazine and The Journey Prize Anthology. Her first novel, Throwaway Angels, was published in 1996 and was shortlisted for the 1997 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel. Her second novel, Your Mouth Is Lovely, won the 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction and Italy’s 2004 Adei-Wizo Prize. It has been translated into seven languages. Born in Montreal, Nancy Richler lived for many years in Vancouver but has recently returned to Montreal.

Visit her website at

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