The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
A young woman, traumatized from the events she witnessed in Europe, arrives in Montreal after the war. She is there to meet her groom, whom she has never met before. But from the glimpse he has of her as she descends from the train, he decides he doesn’t want to marry her. She ends up marrying his brother instead. They have a baby and when the baby is three months old, she disappears from their lives not even leaving them the solace of her real name.
If you think this is a spoiler alert, think again. This is the very beginning of the Imposter Bride, the event that propels the whole novel forward. Half of the novel is told from the perspective of the Imposter Bride’s daughter, Ruth. Ruth grows up within the loving home of her father and extended family. She lacks for nothing except a mother, and the important knowledge of her own roots. It is also partly told in the third person. Almost archeologically, Richler pieces together the story of the woman who uses the name Lily Azerov. What happened to her in Europe? Why did she leave? Who was she really?
The most striking feature of this novel for me was the portrayal, through Ruth’s eyes, of the Montreal Jewish community after the war. We all know the horrors of the holocaust, the terrible toll war takes on a country- the dead, the ill, the wounded. Whole cities and lives in ruins. What we don’t think about as much is the emotional albatross the survivors wear around their neck for the rest of their lives. There is a scene where a man stares at Lily in a cafe. Increasingly uncomfortable, Lily leaves the cafe. He follows her out, runs after her in a panic, calling her by another name. When Lily finally turns to confront him, she sees the look of expectation, of hopeless hope on his face. Then he looks at her and knows right away it isn’t who he thought it was. Richler describes in that scene a whole generation of people running after girls in cafes, girls who held their coffee cup in the same way as their sister, mother. A whole generation of people looking for their dead in the faces of the living.
Having said that, would I recommend this books whole heartedly? Alas no. I am honestly not sure what it is- perhaps the disjointed story lines, the back and forth of Lily’s story. Or maybe the narrator was too distant, like they were telling us this story from a football field away. Either way, though the intention was clear, there was an emotional detachment to this story that did not fit with the subject matter. I was never fully engaged with the characters, never plunged deeply into the plot. It was a book I could put down easily and was not in a rush to pick up. If this sounds like wishy washy criticism, believe me I agree. I am just not sure how else to put it and am not sure what exactly it was about the story that did not move me more than it did. The writing was excellent, the plot interesting. But the fact remains, though I liked this book and there were many great factors about it, I did not love it as much as I wanted to.