St Martin's Press, February 5, 2013.
When a young, enigmatic woman arrives in post-war Montreal, it is immediately clear that she is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters as she disappears, leaving a new husband and baby daughter, and a host of unanswered questions. Who is she really and what happened to the young woman whose identity she has stolen? Why has she left and where did she go? It is left to the daughter she abandoned to find the answers to these questions as she searches for the mother she may never find or really know.Giller 2012: Nancy Richler on The Imposter Bride
The mystery of Lily Azerov, the ‘imposter bride’ of Nancy Richler’s rich, complex, compassionate novel, shifts through Lily’s past and her daughter, Ruth’s, present, interwoven with the perceptions of her whole extended family, as they adjust to the comforts of life in Montreal. All have been touched by the grotesque violence of the Holocaust, all find ways to prevail, tell stories and laugh – all except for Lily, whose burden of guilt is too great to acknowledge. A wonderfully nuanced work of fiction by a master of the craft.
Jury Citation, Scotiabank Giller Prize jury, 2012.
Beautifully written…a narrative that speaks astutely to the unspeakable losses inherent in the human condition… ‘The Imposter Bride’ suggests that it is finally our shared unknowability that connects us.
The New York Times | Read Further
Book of Ruth
‘The Imposter Bride,’ by Nancy Richler
A family story: My mother’s friend Frika, a Viennese Jew, managed to leave Austria for America after the Anschluss. She knew if she were caught smuggling out the means of subsistence, she would be arrested. So she wore her money on her hat, in the form of a diamond brooch, which — thus flaunted — passed for fake. When the Nazis at the border asked what she was taking with her, she replied, “Only what you see!” And they let her through.
Frika might have stepped from the pages of Nancy Richler’s moving third novel, “The Imposter Bride,” which opens in 1946 at a wedding in Montreal’s Jewish community. The bride, Lily Azerov, is a refugee from Poland, via Palestine. She brings with her an uncut diamond, a journal written in Yiddish and the grief of a brutally erased world.
But if her sorrow is genuine, her other possessions, including the name Lily, belong to a stranger; they aren’t hers. And the world she marries into is populated by strangers too. Her husband, Nathan, is one of them, doubly so: it was his brother whom she traveled half the world to marry, sight unseen, before he took one look at her “shadowed face, the dress, all wrong, that had obviously been chosen with care,” and fled from the engagement.As she herself would all too soon flee from Nathan and their infant daughter, Ruth.
Beautifully written, “The Imposter Bride” is alternately told in the third person, through Lily’s and other family members’ eyes, and the first person, through Ruth’s. We meet Ruth on her sixth birthday, when suddenly her lost mother mails her a present, “a pink rock” that was “smooth and shiny on top, and almost transparent in places, with jagged little nooks on the underside.”
The arrival of this opaque metonym-by-mail, the first of many she will receive from Lily, transforms the child: “All my life I had been a girl without a mother. She had left soon after I was born, and no one knew where she had gone. . . . I didn’t miss her, had never missed her. . . . Her absence was more a background to my life than anything else. It was a given, a stable fact of life that was definitional, not dynamic, like the hole in the center of a bagel, without which a bagel would be something else. . . . Now, though, I had a mother. . . . And now, for the first time, I wanted more.”
Ruth’s story then becomes an intermittent quest to find out why her mother left, and who and where the strange and broken woman is who sends her stones as gifts, unsigned, accompanied only by an index card that names the lake beside which each was found. Silent, lovely and impenetrable, the stones express both Lily’s absence and her presence. They recall the stones Jews leave on the graves of loved ones, and the rock on which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, known as the Foundation Stone in Jerusalem: were it to be removed, watery chaos would engulf the universe (so a rabbi friend informs me).
Lily’s stones embody her essential mystery — a mystery penetrated by only one other character in the book, the diamond-cutter, Ida Pearl, who knows that the hardest stones can shatter and fears for the impostor bride.
The single disappointment in Richler’s novel is its self-referential ending, too neat and too predictable. Besides which, Proust already did it. But why quibble with this tiny flaw in a narrative that speaks so astutely to the unspeakable losses inherent in the human condition? “The Imposter Bride” suggests that it is finally our shared unknowability that connects us.
Nancy Kline’s translation, with Patricia Terry and Kathleen Micklow, of Jules Supervielle’s “Selected Prose and Poetry” is forthcoming.
Nancy Kline, The New York Times
April 5, 2013
With this latest work Richler delivers an intensely satisfying read and cements her reputation as a fine contemporary Canadian novelist.
The Montreal Gazette | Read Further
Like so many Holocaust survivors who found their way to Montreal from Europe after the Second World War, Lily Azerov has to swallow her sorrow and somehow find the strength to start life anew. She is a beautiful, cultured and well-educated young woman, but she has no surviving family members, no money and no trade to ply. She is also burdened with a secret; Lily Azerov is not her real name.
A handsome young man named Sol Kramer, a button sorter in Montreal's garment industry, has agreed to marry the desperate woman, for a small fee, upon her arrival. But the prospective bridegroom changes his mind the second he sees Lily at the Montreal train station. Something about her repulses him enough to make him withdraw his offer. She is "damaged goods," too frightened and full of grief for him to marry even for a short time, even just as a charitable act to help her get a start in Canada, where unsponsored Jewish refugees are still unwelcome. Luckily for Lily, Sol's brother Nathan is so entranced by Lily's beauty and elegance, he offers to marry her in his brother's stead.
The young couple are forced by their humble financial circumstances to live under the same roof as Nathan's widowed mother and brother Sol, an awkward situation further complicated by the fact that Sol now deeply regrets his decision to spurn Lily.
Nathan and Lily have a daughter, Ruth. A few months later, Lily disappears, leaving formula in the fridge and a one-line note: "Forgive me. Yours, Lily."
Thus begins Montrealer Nancy Richler's third novel, The Imposter Bride, a gripping mystery with characters drawn so well that one can vividly imagine them strolling the streets of N.D.G., smoking on fire escapes of apartment buildings in Mile End, chatting in the busy diners of the 1940s and '50s. Famous landmarks and events from this city's past are fascinating to read about, particularly for Montrealers, but the central mystery of who this Lily Azerov really is, and the turmoil she and her new family must endure to put the horrors of war behind them, are also a compelling reminder of the wartime heartbreak and hardship that has shaped the lives of so many families in this city.
Ruth grows up knowing only that her mother had come to Montreal from Europe after the war, married Ruth's father, then left without explanation a few months after Ruth was born. She knows her mother is still alive, because every couple of years, she receives a package containing a different beautiful rock from the shores of lakes in various parts of Canada. No letters, just rocks, and a short note in her mother's handwriting saying where and when she found the rocks and what the weather was like at the time. Eventually Ruth discovers that her mother has also left behind a notebook, filled with a different young woman's handwriting in Yiddish, as well as a different kind of rock: a mysterious and possibly valuable gemstone.
Despite the painful fact of her mother's abandonment, Ruth is a happy and well-loved child. Her father, her paternal grandmother Bella, her Uncle Sol and Aunt Elka, and Elka's mother, Ida, all work very hard to fill the maternal void. Ruth always feels different from other children, though, and as a young woman she sets out to learn the truth.
Although the story is mostly told in the first person by Ruth, the point of view jumps about to each of the main characters, including Lily and the girl who wrote in the notebook, sometimes leaving the reader struggling to make sense of whose story we are onto now. But all of Richler's characters, especially the formidably strong but loving grandmothers (Ida, a gem cutter and matchmaker whose own marriage failed miserably, and Bella, who lost three children to hunger back in Russia and her husband to postwar depression), are so compelling as to to dispel any frustration with the jumping viewpoints and keep us turning the pages. Besides, each of the main characters knows a little about why Lily left, or at least they think they do.
Richler was born in Montreal and recently moved back, after spending many years in Vancouver. Her short fiction has been published in several respected journals, and her first novel, Throwaway Angels, 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. With this latest work, Richler delivers an intensely satisfying read, and cements her growing reputation as a fine contemporary Canadian novelist.
The Montreal Gazette
March 17, 2012
Richler is back, and with an elegant, ambitious, accomplished new work.
The Globe and Mail | Read Further
The year 2002 stands out in Canada for a sudden flourish of outstanding women’s fictions. The hits just kept on coming: Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson; Lures, by Sue Goyette; Enemy Women, by Paulette Jiles; and Nancy Richler’s sublime Your Mouth is Lovely, a spellbinding romance of the 1905 Russian Revolution that tells of Mariam, a Jewish activist imprisoned in Siberia.
Finally, Richler is back, and with an elegant, ambitious, accomplished new work. The Imposter Bride elaborates Richler’s essential themes: Jewish history, maternal absence, female experience and the significance of the word. It zigzags through time and space, through Eastern and Western Europe and Palestine, and a harrowing century of family history. But it is rooted firmly in Montreal, in the point of view of the child of a Holocaust survivor who seeks knowledge of her missing mother.
Just what that mother has survived is not expressly articulated; the Holocaust is depicted as part of a long, grotesque tradition of anti-Semitic terror. Where Your Mouth is Lovely echoed the tones of Tolstoy, Babel and Brontë, the new novel finds Richler confidently inhabiting her own voice. A native Montrealer, she elucidates a compassionate, complex vision of her beloved community.
It begins with the marriage of Nathan Kramer and one Lily Azerov, a refugee who arrives in Montreal via Palestine in the mid-1940s. A matchmaker has arranged for Lily to marry Nathan’s brother. But Sol takes one look at her and changes his mind. He soon regrets his decision. Too late: Nathan has fallen in love at first sight. He casually – and comically – steps in as groom, a minor shift of fate, after all, for a community whose history has been violently unpredictable.
A local jeweller named Ida crashes the wedding. She hopes that Lily Azerov is a cousin, presumed to have died in the war. As it turns out, the bride is an imposter who has stolen her cousin’s identity. Ida is a woman made brittle by tragedy. Still, she keeps Lily’s secret to herself.
No matter; Lily, the imposter bride, cannot adjust to her new name and new life. She flees Montreal, shortly after giving birth to a girl. As Ruthie grows up, she investigates her mother’s whereabouts and identity. She is guided by three clues: an uncut diamond, a Yiddish notebook and a handful of beautiful rocks received as gifts over the years.
Ruthie’s story moves us through the phases of a blissfully ordinary life that is shaped by her mother’s absence, by her affectionate extended family and by her dawning awareness of her personhood and womanhood. These straightforward chapters alternate with disruptive passages of recent history told from the perspectives of both Lily and the dead girl whose identity she has stolen.
Lily absorbs the stories in the girl’s notebook: memories, dreams and fantasies that take the place of her own. Survivor’s guilt, certainly, but something else as well: the mystical power of the word, how taking a person’s name is a way of taking a person’s life.
The dead girl is the daughter of a diamond cutter in Antwerp. In the notebook, she describes glorious summer vacations at the Krakow home of her cousin Ida. We glimpse the prosperous, cultivated, centuries-old Jewish world that has been destroyed. In addition, Richler considers the effect of shame on groups and individuals.
The human loss Richler records is incalculable. Ruthie’s grandparents are one example. Before emigrating to Montreal, they lose all three of their children in the violence following the Russian Revolution. Her grandfather – a powerful, idealistic man – never recovers. He sits for hours in the park, staring at nothing. One of Ruthie’s teachers – a survivor – cries silently throughout his classes.
Ruthie is accustomed to the peculiarities and pathologies of the older generations; deep, psychological wounds that may ultimately explain her mother’s disappearance. For those of us who are not children of survivors (I’m not), but who have friends who are (I do), and who have wondered (as I have) how a devastated Jewish family moves forward in faith and love and grace, this novel serves as a gut-wrenching education.
Donna Bailey Nurse is a Toronto writer, editor and literary journalist.
The Globe and Mail
April 6, 2012
Beautiful...A meticulously rendered character study...A hopeful testament to the power of family and memory, and the importance and meaning of one's name.
Winnipeg Free Press | Read Further
The question of identity lies at the heart of Montreal author Nancy Richler's beautiful new literary novel, a meticulously rendered character study about Jews in Montreal post-Second World War.
The Imposter Bride, like Richler's 2003 award-winning fiction, Your Mouth Is Lovely, probes this essential question by primarily examining the connectivity of women across generations, oceans and time.
The author, by the way, is distantly related to the late Mordecai Richler.
The women at the core of her narrative are grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters, each one of them harbouring personal grievances and grief, pain and passion. They are all connected by the enigmatic Lily Azerov, who arrives in Montreal from Poland, via Palestine, in 1946.
Lily is a Holocaust survivor. She also is not who she claims to be.
Spurned by the man who promised to marry her upon her arrival in Canada, Lily weds his brother Nathan instead. Nathan is a kind and gentle soul, willing to accept his wife at face value and not to probe too deeply into her past.
Shortly after their marriage, Lily gives birth to Ruth and subsequently disappears from her daughter's and husband's lives.
Ruth is raised with love and tenderness by her father, two formidable grandmothers and a gracious and generous aunt, but spends much of her youth fixated on learning more about her mother.
She understands that her mother was "damaged" by what happened to her during the war, and with an intelligence and insight that belie her years, she understands too that that damage made it impossible for Lily to remain in her daughter's life.
"My mother was like that teacup, I had come to think," Ruth muses. "She could not withstand the rigours of the life she was trying to live, a normal life of love, marriage and family. My birth had re-shattered her, and it was a sad story, to be sure, but it was also a story with certain prettiness to it. Pretty things shattered."
This relationship, or lack of one, between a hopeful daughter and a shattered mother, is reminiscent of the relationship at the core of Israeli-Canadian author Edeet Ravel's 2008 novel, Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth, also set in Montreal.
By virtue of their subject matter, both novels dissect the way in which the trauma of the past haunts the present, making everyday tasks like earning a living, preparing a meal and mothering a child completely insurmountable.
In The Imposter Bride, this trauma is exacerbated for Lily by the name that she has stolen and the secret that she harbours. When finally revealed, this secret, to Richler's credit, is not quite what readers will expect.
The novel's ending too holds its own surprises. Although over time Ruth manages to find answers to many of the questions she has about her mother, the answers are not as curative as she had hoped. They do not completely assuage Ruth's sense of abandonment nor fully explain Lily's guilt or pain.
To the end Lily remains a damaged person and Ruth, in her own way, becomes a survivor, too. In Richler's capable hands, however, the story of the life they barely shared is transformed into a hopeful testament to the power of family and memory, and the importance and meaning of one's name.
Winnipeg Free Press
March 24, 2012
Richler's third novel explores emotional devastation that lasts generations, delivering a powerful punch.
Publishers Weekly | Read Further
The Imposter Bride
Nancy Richler. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-01006-3
Richler’s third novel explores emotional devastation that lasts generations, delivering a powerful punch. In post-WWII Montreal, Canada, Lily Kramer, a young refugee, marries Nathan, the brother of the man with whom she had corresponded and who, after catching his first glimpse of his bride-to-be, refused to marry her. But Lily is no saint herself, and not who she portrays herself to be. Told in alternating chapters, Lily’s life after marrying Nathan is juxtaposed with the life of her daughter, Ruth, abandoned soon after she was born. Two notebooks and a mysterious diamond are all that remain for Ruth of her mother, along with a need to know the truth (“Could a person really lose her very sense of self because the world that formed and reflected that self back to her was destroyed?”). Richler—whose previous novel, Your Mouth Is Lovely, won the 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award—perfectly captures Lily’s heartbreak and the secrets that she keeps. Chapter by chapter the wrenching secrets of the Kramer family peel away, until finally what Lily has hidden is revealed. Once the truth comes, it is heartbreaking. Agent: Dean Cooke, the Cooke Agency. (Feb.)
Readers will enjoy feasting on this compelling work.
Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal | Read Further
Richler, Nancy. The Imposter Bride.
St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 325p.
ISNB 9781250010063. $24.99.
It’s 1946, and Lilly Azerov has arrived in Montreal to marry Sol Kaplan. Introduced through an Israeli matchmaker, the two have never met, which is evident from Sol’s response to his bride-to-be: he refuses to marry her. But Sol’s brother, Nathan, has no such reservations. Ida Pearl Krakauer “crashes” the wedding with her daughter, Elka, and knows that the bride is not Lily Azerov, Ida Pearl’s long-lost cousin. Yet Ida Pearl says nothing, and so this novel moves from present to past to future and back again as “Lily’s” history is revealed and her life conjectured upon by her daughter, Ruth, who fantasizes about the mother who left her behind as an infant. Then with the receipt of a gift from Lily on Ruth’s sixth birthday, Ruth begins her own journey to the woman she will become. VERDICT: Richler (Your Mouth Is Lovely) illuminates through her introspective and incisive writing the postwar Canadian Jewish community and how the ties with those loved and lost in Europe are never broken, and how the past never relinquishes its hold on us. Says Ruth, “I was very curious [about my mother]. But… the pickings on that front were decidedly slim. I was famished.” Readers will enjoy feasting upon this compelling work.
- Bette-Lee Fox
The novel’s distinguishing characteristic is its moment – the postwar years when the large, increasingly successful Jewish community received a substantial group of Holocaust survivors. These people were greene to long-time Montrealers – a source of both pride and shame, in their cultural accomplishments and dark history...The Imposter Bride’s take on these themes is unfailingly thoughtful and revealing. It offers a window on a place and time not so far removed from us, which is exceedingly hard to find between the covers of a book.
Norman Ravvin, Canadian Jewish News | Read Further
Mapping the Suburban Moment
The Imposter Bride, by Nancy Richler. HarperCollins
Reviewed by Norman Ravvin
Montreal holds a mythic status in the minds of many Canadian Jews, representing what would once have been called the hoipt shtot – the capital city – of the country’s Jewish literary tradition. Although economic power and the power of numbers were ceded years back to other centres, the literary life of the city retains its own unique character. Of writers who came of age after the Second World War, Nancy Richler is among the most compelling. Her breakthrough book, Your Mouth is Lovely, takes place in pre-revolutionary Russia, and explores a mother’s loss and self-transformation in the era of the gulag. Canada presents itself, as an American with Canadian roots once put it, as “little more than a sea of meaningless mist.”
Richler’s new novel, The Imposter Bride, puts her back on home ground – a Montreal native who lived in Vancouver for many years, she moved back to the city shortly before the new book’s release. The novel’s distinguishing characteristic is its moment – the postwar years when the large, increasingly successful Jewish community received a substantial group of Holocaust survivors. These people were greene to long-time Montrealers – a source of both pride and shame, in their cultural accomplishments and dark history.
This period is largely a blank in mainstream Canadian literature, including its Jewish English-language component. Major Yiddish writers and their counterparts in the visual arts captured the era, but most great Yiddish postwar work went untranslated. A younger generation, best represented by Nancy Richler’s cousin Mordecai, abandoned ship, making careers for themselves in Toronto, with the CBC, the major newspapers, the NFB, or further afield in England and New York.
The Imposter Bride fills in the gap caused by a dearth of fiction about the postwar years. The novel rests on a neat narrative turn: the arrival of a female survivor named Lily Azerov, whose identity includes a mystery, and whose actions in her short time in Montreal leave great upheaval in their wake. We receive her story from the daughter she abandons, and it is through Ruthie that Richler moves her story to a later decade of Montreal Jewish life, which has itself been little explored. This is the moment after the wholesale abandonment of the old downtown neighbourhood, in favour of modern flats and work in the western suburbs. Without didacticism, Richler conveys the shifts in the 1950s that presented new social and economic possibilities for the city’s Jews.
Irving Layton, who himself lived in Côte Saint-Luc, treated the area to some of his characteristic dark satire. His monuments to suburban life include the “steam shovel” as it “prepares an accommodation / and an easy way out / for excrement.” But Richler tells her story from Ruthie’s youthful point of view, and she is a curious rather than corrosive observer of her surroundings.
Among the fine surprises in The Imposter Bride is Richler’s easy, detailed way with time and place, whether the postwar downtown or suburbia of a later decade. As a newly arrived immigrant with a secret past, Lily Azerov is in constant retreat from her new husband’s family. Before her well-meaning mother-in-law she struggles with a feeling of “strangeness that overwhelmed her” when she tried to “interact as a person normally would when buying bread in a store, or talking to her mother-in-law in the kitchen or going about any other business of daily life.”
When Lily suddenly disappears, the focus of the narrative shifts to Ruthie, Richler’s representative of the postwar generation. Where Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz sketched the life of the downtown quarter – its economic struggles and wartime enthusiasms – The Imposter Bride depicts the suburban chapter that follows it. In a wonderful vignette set in Ruthie’s Jewish day school, the portrayal of one of her teachers, himself a new European arrival, allows Richler to trace the fault lines of a community that is assimilating and abandoning much of its ethnic, even its local prewar heritage. Mr. C’s angst troubles the mother’s of Ruthie’s friends, but Ruthie acknowledges his strength, “a hard, dry strength.” The newcomer-establishment divide inevitably erupts, as the children make their teacher “aware in countless other ways how little we respected him, how unpopular he was as a teacher, referring to him by initial only when we were talking amongst ourselves, as if he didn’t even have a name.”
By the novel’s close Ruthie looks back on these childhood experiences from a position of understanding, as she recovers key elements of her mother’s story. The Imposter Bride’s take on these themes is unfailingly thoughtful and revealing. It offers a window on a place and time not so far removed from us, which is exceedingly hard to find between the covers of a book.
Norman Ravvin’s recent books include a novel, The Joyful Child (Gaspereau) and Failure’s Opposite: Listening to A.M. Klein, co-edited with Sherry Simon (McGill-Queen’s).
One of the many strengths of her writing is that she doesn't force a happy or even a complete ending. She seems content to continue exploring.
Cynthia Ramsay, Jewish Independent | Read Further
April 20, 2012
Nancy Richler returns
Award-winning author Nancy Richler returns to Vancouver later this month for the launch of her third novel, The Imposter Bride.
Born in Montreal, Richler lived in the United States for several years before moving to Vancouver in 1988. She only recently returned to her hometown.
“I have elderly parents living in Montreal,” she told the Independent in an e-mail interview. “They’re at a stage of life where they could use some support and company, so my partner and I decided to relocate to Montreal for a period of time.”
Richler lived in Vancouver for some 25 years, so it is fitting that the city is one of her first promotional stops for her new book, especially since, according to her website, it was here that she began her fiction-writing career.
“Soon after arriving there,” she writes, “I began to notice frequent small articles in the local newspaper about women going missing from a particular area of Vancouver that had a high concentration of drug use and sex trade. The women who were disappearing were sex trade workers, and the articles were generally tucked into the middle of the paper, as if such women did not merit front-page coverage when they were clearly being preyed upon by one or more serial killers. Vancouver’s indifference to this tragedy was the impetus behind Throwaway Angels, my first novel. It was published in 1996 [by Press Gang Publishers], six years before an arrest was made in the case of Vancouver’s missing women.”
Richler followed up this book, which was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Award, with Your Mouth is Lovely (HarperCollins Canada and Ecco Press, 2002). Winner of the 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction and the 2004 Adei Wizo Award (Italy), it takes place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, centring on the character of Miriam, a young woman who ends up a political prisoner exiled to Siberia after the Russian Revolution. Among her personal tragedies, Miriam’s mother committed suicide soon after Miriam was born, and Miriam had to give up her own daughter at birth.
The Imposter Bride (HarpersCollins Publishers Ltd.) also deals with fractured mother-daughter relationships, conflict (though, in this instance, it’s the Second World War and the period following it) and identity. Taking place in postwar Montreal, the novel begins immediately after the wedding of Nathan Kramer to a woman calling herself Lily Azerov. Her intended groom was actually Nathan’s brother, Sol, who rejected her upon first sight as she disembarked at the train station; Nathan, however, was enamored on first sight. From the book’s title, readers know before turning a page that Lily is not who she claims to be, and this is the mystery that propels the narrative. The first chapter sets the tone for the entire novel and so seamlessly leads into the story of the Kramer and Azerov families that it is hard to believe that a version of it was first published as a stand-alone work in a Canadian literary magazine in 2005.
Explaining that the rejection scenario actually happened to her paternal grandmother – and that, like Lily, her “grandmother ended up marrying her rogue fiancé’s brother” – Richler told the Independent, “I wrote that first scene back in 2004 and my interest at that time was to explore what it might have been like for a young woman alone in the world to be rejected on sight by the man on whom she depended to build her new life. Once I began writing, however, I realized I wanted to set that arrival in the time period immediately following the Second World War, rather than 1903 (the actual year of my grandmother’s arrival) because I was very interested in capturing the feel of Montreal in those immediate postwar years when so many Holocaust survivors arrived in Montreal, influencing and changing the Jewish community there.
“The setting and time period were so rich for me that, for several years, I wrote without direction, without shaping the material into a story. I had to allow the material to emerge on paper in vignettes and seemingly unrelated stories until, finally, about four years into the writing, I had a sense of what it was that most interested me and what the story was that I wanted to pull out from all the impressions and memories that had poured out of me.”
With her first novel being rooted in what was then a current situation and the latter two being tied more intimately to her own life/family but historical fiction, the Jewish Independent asked Richler to describe the evolution of her literary style.
“In each of my novels,” she said, “I’ve worked to match the narrative voice to the setting, time period and story being told. Throwaway Angels, set in the Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, is told in very spare, unadorned prose, while Your Mouth is Lovely, set in late-19th-century, early-20th-century Russia, reflects the more expansive, lyrical style of that time. Both of those novels were told in the first person by one narrator.
“The Imposter Bride is the first novel where I’ve used more than one narrative voice, alternating between first person and third person. It allowed me to incorporate a wider range of perspectives, to tell a multi-faceted story, and to reflect more of the complexity of the lives and situations I depict.
“I have to smile when I hear The Imposter Bride described as historical fiction,” she continued, “because it is set in the time period of my own life, the postwar years in Montreal. To me, that’s contemporary, but I realize that it’s getting to the point where it’s very fair to call a novel set in the mid- to late-20th century historical fiction.
“It’s certainly a novel which explores the effects of large historical events on the lives of individuals.”
In her novels, these events irreparably change the lives of Richler’s protagonists in ways that are not always easily definable. One of the many strengths of her writing is that she doesn’t force a happy or even a complete ending. She seems content to continue exploring. When asked about such recurring themes as identity, the impact of violence, mothers being separated from their daughters (or vice versa), the persecution of Jews by external enemies and the alienation of Jews within their own community when they diverge from certain norms/expectations, Richler said, “My themes arise from the lives and situations of my characters which, in turn, arise from my own time and place in history. I don’t actually set out in any conscious way to explore particular themes, but somehow the same themes always reappear in my stories, even if the characters and their situations differ from novel to novel.
“In terms of the themes you mention, I think that’s a good summary of some of my preoccupations, but I would say I’m less interested in the persecution of Jews per se than in how individuals and communities respond to being misunderstood, ostracized, persecuted and how individuals and communities respond in different ways to overwhelming loss.”
Richler's strenghts are at their height. She employs a vivid lyricism that interweaves psychological and geographical landscapes.
The National Post
Nancy Richler paints a deft and loving portrait of Jewish Montreal in the post-war years and then turns to wartime Europe for the dark mystery that provides her intriguing plot. The results are engrossing, both highly readable and moving.
Kate Taylor, author of Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen and The Man in Uniform.
An intriguing tale of historical fiction that will transport you from Montreal to war-torn Europe, and back again for a satisfying resolution of one family's haunting secrets.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of Secret Daughter.
The Imposter Bride is a jewel of a book. With a true storyteller’s craft, Richler spins her tale and her characters from the wreckage that was the inheritance of World War II, each life carrying a secret burden of loss. At the center of this story is a bride who comes to Canada with a stolen identity. The shockwaves that ripple out from her sudden disappearance shape—and bind—the lives of all those she touched. These are characters that will stay with you long after you read the last word of the book. They are characters that show us that even out of the greatest tragedy, it is possible to shape hope and love.
Naomi Benaron, author of Running the Rift.
With delicacy and warmth, Richler weaves together the threads of a family: its closeness and secrets, opaqueness and hidden beauty, like the uncut gem whose mystery haunts these realistic characters. The rich story line moves between the quotidian and the unspeakable, showing survivors starting over in an evocative postwar Montreal.
Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter.
At once heartrending and hopeful, The Imposter Bride is a novel of an abandoned daughter’s search for her mother and a psychologically scarred woman’s search for herself. Nancy Richler dissects the mysteries of family bonds and betrayals with stunning emotional precision and magical insights into the human heart’s ability to heal.
Ellen Feldman, author of Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, Next to Love, and Lucy.
With THE IMPOSTER BRIDE, Nancy Richler conceives a complex, multi-layered quest for identity that will compel readers to share Ruth’s journey to find, understand, and love the mother who abandoned her.
Nancy Jensen, author of THE SISTERS.
Exquisitely written, filled with interesting and unpredictable characters, and has an intricate plot that doesn't let go. It's good old-fashioned story-telling at it's best ...a remarkable work.
Alyson Richman, author of The Lost Wife