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Your Mouth Is Lovely: A Novel Hardcover – November 5, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (November 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060096772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060096779
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,830,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like a doomed love affair, the Russian Revolution proceeds according to its own inexorable logic in this haunting U.S. debut by Canadian Richler (Throw Away Angels). Within hours of Miriam Lev's birth into a swampy shtetl in prerevolutionary Minsk, her mother dispatches her to a wet nurse and drowns herself. Six years later, Miriam is halfheartedly reclaimed by her father, Aaron, "the Stutterer," newly married to the young seamstress Tsila. With her grotesque facial birthmark and a disposition "sour as spoiled milk," Tsila fulfills the job requirements for wicked stepmother. But this remarkably complex character educates Miriam "to be a human being among human beings" and instills in her the urge to escape ("Nice is somewhere else"). She also binds Miriam to her own family, especially to her rebellious sister Bayla, now scandalously cohabitating with the agitator Leib in Kiev. Convinced that poverty, pogroms and mounting political unrest are making Russia uninhabitable, Tsila decides they'll emigrate to Argentina. But late in 1904, just months before the outbreak of revolution, she sends Miriam to Kiev to find Bayla a quest that leads to a Siberian political prison. Weaving together political and cultural history, magical realism and the resigned mordancy of Jewish humor, Richler has created a world that seems totally inhabited, but poised to self-destruct. Too many tangential incidents and indistinguishable minor characters crowd the novel, but in Tsila, Bayla and especially in Miriam, Richler has created unforgettable, deeply nuanced characters, freethinking dreamers whose revolutionary activities feel both historically inevitable and mysteriously personal.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It's 1911-only six years before the fall of the Russian Empire. And Miriam is writing a journal that she hopes will eventually make its way to her young daughter, living with Miriam's Aunt Bayla in Canada. Unfortunately for Miriam, she is incarcerated in the bleakest Siberian prison camp under a life sentence for having engaged in revolutionary activities. Miriam tells her story in a succession of flashbacks interspersed with the brief journal entries. We are soon drawn in by the peculiar circumstances of Miriam's life-her mother's suicide at her birth; her adoption by a peasant family; readmittance several years later to her father's household with his new wife, Tsila (Bayla's older sister); and then Miriam's journey from the shtetl to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. In Kiev, she believes her life will have a new beginning: "No one knew me in Kiev, no one cared who I was, where I came from. It could be dangerous, I supposed, to be so alone, but I felt no danger, only joy." Instead, she unwittingly gets involved in the revolutionary movement, which is her undoing. Richler has created a vital, credible world that seamlessly demonstrates the interconnectedness of humanity. Such is the power of her craft that Miriam's story transcends the mundane, propelling this magnificent novel into the company of Dickens and Dostoyevski. Richler's first novel, Throw Away Angels, was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award in her native Canada. Recommended without reservation for all fiction collections.
Edward Cone, New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Modern Russian literature is renowned for its ability to render revolutionary action and violence into poetry and lyrical prose. Passionate, as well as intellectually and emotionally challenging, it is often able to present darkness and sorrow in a beautiful artistic light. Nancy Richler, in her second novel, has taken the desperation found in many of the Russian classics, softened it with Jewish folkloric style and created a touching and memorable novel. In YOUR MOUTH IS LOVELY, part Trotsky, part Tolstoy and part Sholom Aleichem, Richler presents the failed 1905 Russian Revolution from the perspective of shtetl, or village, Jews and presents the shtetl and its inhabitants from the perspective of one young Jewish revolutionary.
The story centers on Miriam, the narrator of the tale. It is 1912; she is only 23 and serving a life sentence in a Siberian prison for violent and subversive action against the state. But her intent in writing is not to disseminate socialist ideals. Instead she is writing to the daughter who does not know her and never will, the daughter she bore in prison. She is writing her life story. So, it is with the tenderness of a mother's love that the tale is told, despite the hardships the characters endure.
Miriam's mother drowned herself the day Miriam was born, still grieving from the loss of her infant son. Miriam's father, Aaron Lev, put her in the care of the wet-nurse Lipsa, who raised Miriam as one of her own for almost six years. When Aaron Lev marries Tsila, a strong-willed and sharply intelligent young woman, they send for Miriam and thus a new stage in her life begins. Under Tsila's tutelage, Miriam continues her Jewish education, but is also taught to think for herself and question the world around her.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Book Smart on December 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
This novel is an interesting look into rural Jewish culture and society within imperial Russia. It is also a fascinating look at women giving their lives for the "cause" in the 1905 Russian Revolution. I quite enjoyed this story. Miriam, the main character, is an interesting individual with a dramatic past, present, and future. The writing is excellent and the story keeps you interested. I did get a bit lost in the Jewish nomenclature of special days and events, but a dictionary helped with that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on December 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Exploring her own Russian-Jewish roots, Canadian author Richler ("Throw Away Angels") sets her first U.S.-published novel in pre-revolutionary Russia, with its pogroms, poverty, foment and brutal repression. The book takes the form of a chronicle written from a Siberian prison by 23-year-old Miriam for the daughter she has not seen since the day of her birth, six years before. It's late winter, 1911, and the long season has taken its toll.
"We're beyond tired, beyond cold. The blood that fills my mouth is sticky, souring even as I still draw breath. Job floats unbidden into mind. NAKED CAME I INTO THE WORLD AND NAKED WILL I LEAVE IT THITHER. The cold drags on even as the light returns. I write to you, but my hand falters. TO EVERYTHING ITS SEASON, and mine was this: twenty-three years in the bowels of the turning century. I feel my end coming. THE LORD GIVETH AND HE TAKETH AWAY. Then I cough again and it's the taste of my own blood that spurs me on. Is it not still thick and pungent and rich as the heart that pumps it? I pick up the pen once again and move it across the page."
Miriam then begins her life story with the circumstances of her birth in a rural shtetl in 1887. Her mother drowned herself the day after her daughter's birth and Miriam spent her first six years with a large, boisterous peasant family before her shoemaker father remarried and reclaimed his daughter. The talented seamstress, Tsila, his new wife, her face "marked by Divine anger" (a large strawberry birthmark) is considered ill-tempered, but Miriam, though intimidated, is struck by the beauty of the unmarked profile and soon benefits from her stepmother's sharp intellect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Toni Osborne on May 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
"Your Mouth is Lovely" is a touching and memorable tale set in Russia between 1887 and 1912. It is rich in the shtetl ways of life and sweeping historical events. The title is from the Song of Songs, offered as a prayer when a child speaks its first words.

The story centers on Miriam's life while she languishes in a Siberian prison camp. She recounts memories, the high and the low points in her life in a form of a letter to her six year old daughter who was taken away at a very early age and will never have the pleasure of knowing her real mother. Her prose is lyrical and is told with the tenderness of a mother's love. Most of the characters are women, they are superstitious and smart, judgemental and kind and the few male characters are complex and sympathetic and act as a catalyst in the plot.

The novel exposes the brutality of the regime as well as that of the radical socialists who struggled through one aborted revolution after another. It starts with flashbacks in Miriam's upbringing and continues as time passes to the first up rise against the tsar's regime and to the circumstances that led to her arrest.

At first I found it hard to understand the fine points of the time and culture however the author's excellent ground work at start helped me to quickly become somewhat familiar with Jewish and Yiddish terminology and customs. It all paid off and it carried me back to the turbulent and horrific time in Russian history when hope and passion were all the people had to live for.

This is a rich human drama that was very intense and emotionally stimulating.
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