The Clothes On Their Backs
Vivien Kovacs, sensitive and bookish, grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents. She loses herself in books and reinvents herself according to her favorite characters, but it is through clothes that she ultimately defines herself.
Against her father’s wishes, she forges a relationship with her estranged uncle, a notorious criminal, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he reveals the truth about her family’s past, Vivien, having endured unbearable loss, learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world.
Linda Grant is a spectacularly humanizing writer whose morally complex characters explore the line between selfishness and self-preservation. In vivid and supple prose, Grant has created a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present.
Reading Group Guide
Vivien Kovacs, a sensitive and imaginative girl, grows up sealed off from the world in a London apartment building full of eccentric recluses. Her timid parents conceal the details of their escape from Hungary during the Holocaust and shy away from any encounter with the outside world, so Vivien must learn to navigate society on her own. With the help of a large wardrobe of vintage clothes, Vivien sets out for college and transforms herself into a beautiful and educated young woman. But, when tragedy strikes, Vivien returns home to her parents and to a routine of lonely, empty days and nights. A chance encounter leads Vivien to her estranged uncle, notorious criminal and slum lord, Sándor Kovacs. Against her father’s wishes she helps Sándor record his life story, which he is anxious to share in his old age. As Sándor reveals the surprising truth about her family’s past, see more