I read Nancy Richler's second book a long while ago, and I don't remember being impressed. Years down the line, I remember virtually nothing about it. When this came along on one of my lists of Globe & Mail bestsellers, I was ready to give it a chance, but wasn't really expecting much. I was wrong. This is a huge leap forward from Your Mouth is So Lovely, and The Imposter Bride had me in its quiet palm.
Is it flippant to say that this fits squarely in the Jewish-Canadian post-Holocaust genre? There are a number of books written from the point of view of that community. In Canada, but with the horrors of previous years looming just over the shoulders of the characters. It shapes everything, as how could it not?
In this one, a woman in the midst of a series of emigrations, leaves Palestine for Montreal, and an arranged marriage designed to get her Canadian citizenship. But, as the title suggests, she is not who she says she is. Her bridegroom jilts her at the train station, but his brother falls for her instantly. They are married. They have a little girl. One day, the woman leaves the child with her sister-in-law, claims to be going for milk, and never returns. She sends the little girl rocks every once in a while, with a note about what they are and where they're from.
The little girl is brought up by a loving extended family. But the void of where her mother was colours both her and her father's lives. There are diaries left behind, but whose are they? Her mother's, or those of the woman she was pretending to be?
What really elevates this book, however, is the quiet complexity of the characters. There is no ranting, no scattershot blame. There are just people truly trying to understand what happened, and even if they failed, not choosing the easy or angry paths. Everyone carries scars, even if they didn't go through worst of the horrors themselves.
When I was reading Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, I was struck by her call for more complex stories of reunions after adoption. The standard narrative of throwing yourself into your birth mother or father's arms, and everything being easy, she argued, did a disservice to how complex that reunion actually is. The Imposter Bride, I think, although it is not about an adoption precisely, gives a new spin on that story, and it was truly stunning.
It's so quiet. That sense of stillness, of silence, of things that aren't said, without recrimination. Of understanding and not understanding and both of those things being just the way things are.
So much of this book is quietly complex. All the characters, their actions, their lives. And it's drawn so seemingly effortlessly. I remember not loving Richler's previous book, but now I'm eagerly looking forward to the next.