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You Are What You Wear

In her new novel, Linda Grant tackles questions of identity, morality, and fashion

Hugh Levinson
August 25, 2008

A few weeks ago, finalists were announced for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which honors the best novel by a British Commonwealth or Irish writer. The thirteen authors on the longlist include Salman Rushdie, art critic John Berger, and Joseph O’Neil, whose novel Netherland has received a lot of attention in the United States. Also on the list is an author who is not as well known here, but who should be: Linda Grant.

Grant’s new novel, The Clothes on Their Backs, tells the story of Vivien, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who hide their Jewishness—and other details of their past—from her and the rest of the world. As an adult, Vivien forges a friendship with an estranged, criminal uncle in order to gain access to the secrets her parents have kept from her.

The Guardian calls the book “fluid and addictive.” Our London-based reporter Hugh Levinson was equally enthralled. In an interview with Levinson from her home in north London, Grant talks about why suffering does not make one noble, keeping family secrets rarely works, and shopping is a worthy pastime.

Photos: Judah Passow.

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Julie Subrin is Tablet Magazine’s executive producer for audio.

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