Richler’s glimpse into the complicated lives of members of a Canadian Jewish family following the end of World War II provides a retrospective of a bygone culture forever colored by a mystery that shapes the future of a young girl.
Lily Azerov Kramer came to Canada to marry Sol Kramer but ended up with his brother, Nathan, after Sol refused to go through with the nuptials. At the wedding, Sol meets Elka, the daughter of a woman who claims to have a cousin with the same name as Lily. As it turns out, Elka’s mother is right to be suspicious of Lily, since the new bride has appropriated the identity of a dead woman, along with her diary and an uncut gemstone she carried. Years later, Sol and Elka are married, and Lily has run off and left Nathan to raise their little girl. Ruth, who does not remember her mother and has no sense of who she really might be, studies Yiddish at school and makes friends with neighborhood children but finds herself longing for a connection to her mother. That connection grows out of an unexpected place; one day Ruth receives a package that contains a cryptic note and a rock. That rock is followed by others and leads Ruth to more closely examine the relationship she has with her own identity. Taking down the diary Lily has left behind, she begins to read it, thinking she is on track to find her mother, but she’s really reading the words of the dead Lily, who is as much of a stranger to her as her own mother. Richler infuses her work with iconic images from the era she covers, painting a rich image of the Canadian Jewish community, their customs and family relationships, in a past century. Strong imagery and interesting characters populate the novel, but the story slips when it moves to Lily’s point of view.
A beautiful tale that weakens when it returns to Lily’s life and the words of the woman whose identity she has assumed.