Nancy Richler’s book “The Imposter Bride” was a shortlist nominee in 2012 for the Giller Prize, a prestigious award given for literary fiction to a Canadian author each year. It is an emotional novel about a young Jewish woman who emigrates to Montreal in 1946.
After World War II, a deluge of refugees sought a new life in Palestine, Canada and the United States.
As this novel begins, all the reader knows about the woman calling herself Lily Azerov is that she has survived the war, somehow made her way to Palestine, and from there offered herself as a bride in an arranged marriage to a man in Montreal.
The reader soon learns that this woman is not really Lily. She has stolen an identity to come to Canada. She carries a notebook that details some of her dreams. She also possesses a rough, uncut diamond. Refugees in those days traveled with diamonds sewn into the seams of their clothing, reflecting a chaotic Europe where families looked for survivors and the survivors themselves were in turmoil.
“The Imposter Bride” does not dwell on any of the War’s atrocities. Instead it takes the reader to a time and place where lives were in flux. Many were hopeful. Others were too emotionally scarred to just “get on with life.”
Lily says very little about her past. Every decision she makes has long-lasting effects on everyone whose life she touches, especially on her daughter, Ruth.
A year after she arrives in Montreal, Lily abandons her family, leaving to infant Ruth two diaries, an uncut diamond and the revelation that her mother’s name name was not Lily Azerov.
The story alternates between the first person, Ruth (Ruthie), and the third person, who sees through the eyes of Lily and other family members. Ruth never knew her mother and loves her father, grandmother and aunts.
In 1953, on Ruthie’s sixth birthday, she receives “a pink rock” in the mail, the first of many stones she will receive.
The intricate plot twists and turns as Ruth learns bits and pieces of her mother’s life through stones that are accompanied only by an index card that names the lake by which each is found.
Lily’s stones are the mystery in her daughter Ruthie’s life, as are the uncut diamond and a prayer book in Yiddish.
As an adult, Ruthie uses these clues to investigate her mother’s identity.
Montreal is where the author spent most of her childhood; this novel gives the reader a look at postwar Montreal, where civilians, returning soldiers and refugees are all trying to adjust to a changed world. The novel also creates a vibrant image of the Jewish community, struggling to assimilate, heal and adjust while still adhering to its rich customs and traditions.
The book is both reflective and introspective, as the author reminds readers that survivors lost much of who they were. The author weaves her story from the under-told account of loss and survival in Jewish Montreal after WWII.