Your Mouth is Lovely

Written by Nancy Richler
Review by Suzanne J. Sprague

Miriam was born with a hole in her heart – not a physical hole, but an emptiness left by the death of her brother, the suicide of her mother, and the abandonment by her father at birth. Russia in 1887 was a hard enough place for a young Jewish girl to thrive, and Miriam’s constant feeling of isolation, even when brought home from fostering to live with her father and his new wife, did not make it any easier. From her stepmother, Miriam learned the old ways. Later, she met Sara who introduced her to the Bund. From there, Miriam finds herself inadvertently propelled into the revolutionary movement and finds that being a political may help heal her heart.
Miriam is almost a reluctant activist. Her story unfolds through short chapters written to her daughter in her diary as she serves a life sentence in Siberia. The short chapters alternate with longer chapters chronologically detailing her life from birth through the act that sent her to prison. Richler gracefully documents her transformation from awkward child to strong young woman, juxtaposing universal adolescent situations with those unique to a youth in that era.
The major influences in Miriam’s life are women who represent the old, traditional customs and the new, revolutionary ways. Richler flavors the novel with Yiddish terms as references to the old ways, providing an explanation through the context if not the actual definitions.
Winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction, this novel depicts life during a volatile time for Jews in Russia, but does so with most violence implied rather than shown. More emphasized is the effect the revolution has on everyone – even those content to leave tzedakah in the woods as payment for past misdeeds.