Your Mouth Is Lovely

by Nancy Richler

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

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.
Tsila, known as a sour woman, shows Miriam the only maternal love
she ever knows. Miriam quickly adapts to her new life with Tsila
and Aaron Lev --- and adaptability becomes a theme in her life as
she is incredibly impressionable in her acts and opinions. Despite
the home she shares with Tsila and Aaron Lev and the predictable
patterns of shtetl life, she is haunted by the deaths of her mother
and brother, neither of whom she ever knew. As she grows up, the
spirit of revolution moves many Jews across the countryside.
Tsila's sister Bayla is one of them and eventually moves to Kiev to
create the bombs that will fuel the revolution. Aaron Lev and
Tsila, desiring a new life free of anti-Semitism, pogroms and
brutal winters, decide to move to Argentina. Miriam is sent to Kiev
to locate Bayla and the socialist agitators and radicals quickly
put her to work. The illegal Bund meetings she attended in the
shtetl cannot prepare her for the type of life she is about to
embark upon.

After several months in prison following an initial arrest, living
with a mysterious man named Wolf in the typhus-ridden ravines of
Kiev and a single sexual encounter, Miriam finds herself again
arrested but this time pregnant and facing the death penalty. Her
sentence commuted to life in a Siberian prison, Miriam hands her
newborn baby over to Bayla who then flees for Canada, pretending
the girl is her own. Wracked with illness and depression, Miriam
begins her autobiography, at once her own story, the story of the
shtetl and the story of the futile attempt at revolution. For
Miriam, confused for most of her life on the true identity of her
parents and feeling rootless and disconnected, the connections and
roots she creates for her daughter are the only gifts she can offer
--- and the gift she longed to be given all her life.

YOUR MOUTH IS LOVELY is not really about political or social
revolution --- it is about the attempt (and failure) of one woman
to revolutionize her own life and spirit. But Miriam is doomed to
fail at this enterprise, as she is truly disconnected from the
world around her. Some readers may be frustrated at Miriam's
passivity and lack of passion, but Richler is true to her character
and doesn't save her in the end. Miriam's disconnectedness and
longing set the tone of the book, which is both sweet and
sorrowful. Her hopes for herself are lost but, because of her
daughter, who is safe in Montreal, her life has not been without
meaning and purpose. Richler's Miriam is not a very dedicated
revolutionary. Instead she is at all times a lost little girl who
is always searching for something she cannot quite put her finger
on. Yet, she is sympathetic.

YOUR MOUTH IS LOVELY is a bittersweet tale of motherhood and
daughterhood. Richler is a wonderful and vivid storyteller; her
characters brighten even the darkest setting with their very

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 24, 2011

Your Mouth Is Lovely
by Nancy Richler

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0060096772
  • ISBN-13: 9780060096779