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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Jewish Refugees In Nineteen Seventies London

The Clothes On Their Backs - Linda Grant

Set in the nineteen seventies, The Clothes On Their Backs is a novel about identity. Vivien, the narrator is the daughter of Hungarian Jewish refugees who have spent their time since coming to London trying to achieve anonymous respectability. Both their anonymity and their respectability are threatened however, by the towering figure of Uncle Sandor, the black sheep of the family, a slum landlord whose character has been based upon the notorious Peter Rachman.

While there are some things about the book that I didn't like, particularly the political posturing of the narrator, I found the colourful and morally ambivalent portrait of Sandor, utterly captivating. The way he speaks, the things he says, the world which he inhabits - all this is superbly evoked.

This is the kind of novel that stirs up layers of silt in the memory, leaving the reader unsettled and unsure about what he or she really believes in. I cannot get it out of my mind.