January 2, 2013
The Imposter Bride - Nancy Richler
This was the second of the Giller shortlist that I picked up to read (on the recommendation of a good friend!). The basic story is of a young Jewish girl from Poland who survives the second world war by stealing identity papers from a girl, Lily Azerov, who had died. She uses these papers to travel to Palestine (Israel wasn't yet a country). Her "family" there (who recognize that she isn't who she says she is) help her to arrange a marriage with a man in Montreal. She travels there, is rejected by her potential groom, and she later marries his brother. They have a daughter, and when the daughter, Ruth, is a few months old, "Lily" abandons her family.
What made this story stand out to me wasn't so much the plot, but the structure. There were different threads of plot that were woven together like a blanket. The story of "Lily" making her way to Canada; the story of the young bride and her young family; the story of Ruth growing up mother-less. The amazing thing is that even without the hints that some authors like to give at the beginning of chapters, I always knew where I was, as well as who was telling the story, and when. Beautifully structured!
This structure lead to a gentle and intriguing unfolding of the story. What happened to the real Lily Azerov? How did the imposter Lily get ahold of the real Lily's papers? Why did "Lily" leave her family? What happened to "Lily" after she left? Will Ruth and Lily meet up again? These are the questions that are slowly unravelled that kept me reading. I found this to be a hard-to-put-down book while I was reading it.
And yet it didn't quite grab me to make a lasting impression. Three weeks after finishing it, not much of the book, other than the basic plot and structure, has stayed with me. Not the language, not the writing, not the characters. It was an enjoyable read, but I suspect that it isn't one that I will go back to in the future.
One thing that I've been thinking about recently, given the past few books I've finished (this book, along with Mornings in Jenin), is the situation in Palestine / Israel. One theme shared by the two books is the world-wide guilt following the Second World War and the treatment of Jewish people not only in Europe but around the world. This collective guilt led to the support for the formation of the country of Israel in 1948, and even today leads to things like the recent handful of votes at the United Nations (including from my country - I was ashamed to be Canadian that day) attempting to deny Palestine "observer-status" at the UN.
One final thought on this book, and that is the spelling of "imposter" in this title. I didn't even think about it until I was typing up this post and my computer spell check keeps highlighting that word as mis-spelt. I looked it up, and apparently both "imposter" and "impostor" are equally acceptable, with "impostor" being slightly preferred. I wonder why the author chose to spell it "imposter" in the title?