There are so many questions going through one’s mind when one finds out that their mother left them when they were just a helpless baby. The reasons for abandoning children are unfortunately wide and varied, but there is always, ultimately pain in the end.
Yanna Marissa is a young wife and mother who has a dark past, pretending to be someone she is not.
She comes over to Canada, expecting to marry Sol Kramer but ends up marrying his brother, Nathan instead. She has arrived at the train station on the false pretense that she is Lily Azerov, but the truth is—Lily Azerov’s identity has been stolen by Yanna. The real Lily Azerov is back in Europe, most probably deceased.
How Yanna knew Lily and why she has Lily’s papers is revealed to us in the end, but the lie is believed for a short while, until Yanna cannot face her guilt. She parts with unexpected haste from her Montreal apartment, where her daughter, Ruth is left behind in her aunt’s care.
The chapters alternate between Ruth’s voice—what she is going through, trying to find out about her missing mother—and what Yanna goes through from the first day she arrives at the station, to her running away.
There are also parts where we get to read Lily Azerov’s poetic words from her journal and we see the life she was trying to live, recording moments in her book with several emotions.
Many of the characters in the story have their own problems to deal with and are interesting in and of themselves, but it seems as if the women in this novel play a more vital part than the men do.
The hardships that these women endure, whether from their married lives or career choices or the consequences of war really create an interesting plot.
There are three titles that bring to mind similar themes or feelings while I read this story. The first book is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, because the main character is wondering about her mother who disappeared as well and she is hoping to see her again one day. The second book is Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge, if only for the tone and sadness that some of the characters experience during and after war. It reminds me most of Because I Have Loved and Hidden it by Elise Moser. In this story, the main character is finding out about family secrets and the setting is also in Montreal.
I think Richler’s book is about finding yourself and the meaning of life, no matter what your background is or where you come from.
Did you like this novel? Did you like that it was set in a local setting (Côte Saint-Luc)? Next month I will discuss The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.