"We all receive a life sentence at birth ... It is a sin to break under the weight of it"
Your Mouth is Lovely, by Nancy Richler, has everything that I love in a book. Beautifully detailed characters who grow through time and circumstance. Philosophy that reads like poetry. Language that tells a hard truth gently. Historical relevance. A female focus. It has been a long while since a book has kept me awake until 2 am, and I was disappointed in myself when this one fell on my face as I simply couldn't stay awake any longer.
Your Mouth is Lovely (the title comes from the Song of Solomon and is apparently a blessing Jewish mothers say over their children's first words that the words they speak will stay true and gentle), follows the story of 19 year old Miriam from her birth - and earlier - to her imprisonment in Siberia, from which she is writing her story. Although a story that bounces between the 'in real time' narrator and the story she is telling can be a difficult trope to manage, Richler does it elegantly, with few spoilers and none of importance. Miriam is writing to a daughter she may never know, telling the baby girl the story of how she came to be. In the process, it seems, Miriam also discovers how she came to be who she is, and particularly the influence of her step-mother and the other women who raised her in contrast to the mother who birthed her then immediately drowned herself.
Life in Russia at the end of the 19th century was hard for almost everyone (thus the Russian revolution), but especially difficult in the isolated Jewish villages such as the one Miriam calls home. Like the mist from the swamp their village borders, a harsh beauty and struggle colours grey the lives of the people in Miriam's village. Limited options, superstitions, bullying, poverty all encourage the young people - and in particular the young women - towards revolution. While life when she gets to Kiev is not easier, it is a life of Miriam's choosing.
Although the men in Your Mouth is Lovely are a quiet lot, when he does speak Miriam's father Aaron Lev's words stay with you. His theory of water, as his theory of life, gives peace and encouragement. It's a peace and encouragement that linger after the book is back on the shelf. Revolution, riots, struggle, and in the midst of it peace and love and humanity.