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Your Mouth Is Lovely

by Nancy Richler

The difficult and colourful lives of Russian Jews at the beginning of the 20th century are familiar subjects in fiction, and it takes a certain daring to tackle them again. Writers must compete with such masters as I.B. Singer and Isaac Babel, and the risks of writing derivative if not downright redundant work are great. Nancy Richler is up to the task; Your Mouth Is Lovely is a rich portrait of the lives of Russian Jewish women during these years of upheaval.

The novel tells the story of Miriam, a Jewish woman imprisoned in Siberia for her role in the failed Russian revolution of 1905. Miriam narrates the story to her daughter, who was taken from her at birth and now lives with an aunt in Montreal. Over the course of the novel, Miriam attempts to explain her upbringing, and the circumstances that led to her arrest.

Richler has done a tremendous amount of research on the Pale of Settlement and the rising tide of revolutionary fervour that swept Russia at the turn of the 20th century. What makes Your Mouth Is Lovely especially absorbing is Richler’s ability to seamlessly infuse her historical knowledge into the lives of her characters, weaving it into the crucial details of lives lived. We meet gossipy shtetl women and revolutionary fanatics, and while the tone of their pronouncements may strike a familiar note, their words and phrases are consistently fresh and dynamic. Particularly compelling is the portrayal of Tsila, Miriam’s stepmother, a complex woman caught between the “backward” superstitions of her neighbours and the “advanced” political notions of the next generation. Though the novel is most certainly about the struggles and joys of women, the mostly peripheral male characters are also complex and sympathetic, as vividly drawn and compelling in their imperfections as the women.

Your Mouth Is Lovely is a delight to read and can proudly take its place alongside its worthy forebears.


Reviewer: Adam Sol

Publisher: HarperFlamingo Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 356 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200522-0

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2002-10

Categories: Fiction: Novels