Novel captures effects of genocide

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April 27, 2013

The Imposter Bride
By Nancy Richler
Harper Collins, 360 pages, $29.99

Reviewed by Chris Fox

Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride is a haunting, often beautiful, read. It offers history and insight into human relations as it explores how the two shape each other in this story of one woman’s search for the mother who left her, as an infant, to be raised by her father and his family.

Most of the novel, Richler’s third, is told from the perspective of this woman, Ruth, as she grows up in the warm embrace of the Jewish immigrant family that her mother, posing as Lily Kramer, married into before fleeing Montreal for Canada’s hinterland to protect herself. Little Ruthie is hurt by her mother’s abandonment, which her father cannot even begin to explain. At thirteen, at a family Seder, she asks why this mother, whose periodic gift of stones seems to both affirm and to grieve their bond, is not there with them. When her father answers that they “really don’t know,” Ruthie sets the course that she will run when she has become Ruth, an experienced mother herself: “Then maybe I’ll have to find her and ask her.”

This primary narrative unearths itself almost like a mystery while Ruth’s seeking also provides the raison d’être for a layered narrative, based in Montréal, but also reaching back to Amsterdam, Poland, and Palestine during and after WWII. In particular, Richler’s deft development of the back-story of Ruthie’s two grandmother figures, which are brought together, initially, by the imposter bride, is heart-warming. Initially, both are quite unappealing characters, but as they befriend each other and share their stories, readers will find themselves befriending them, too.

Richler’s rich tapestry of characters allows readers to share several diverse stories of Jews who, like the grandmothers, escaped Europe earlier to settle in Montréal, as well as immigrants like Ruth’s mother, who came later and is beginning again, post Second World War, bereft of relations, with only a stolen identity and her dream of “Canada.” Her first impressions of Canada’s endless “dark forest” and towns that are “mere specks in the eye of the desolation that surrounded them” recall accounts by Susannah Moodie a century before and also mirror the impossible losses that haunt “Lily” and underwrite the novel as a whole. In Ruth, and her children, we see Canadian Jews discovering their heritage in order to live more fully in the present. This makes The Imposter Bride an excellent springboard for consideration of the effects of war and attempted genocide and how these horrors distort individual lives and reverberate through generations. Richler’s novel is filled with adroit and apposite prose that, paradoxically, holds its own stone, a respectful silence, at its heart.

Chris Fox is a Victoria writer who recently completed her PhD in English.

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