Drawing of Nancy Richler by Jennie Pencarrick
I was born in Montreal, where I began writing my first novel at the age of seven. Although the characters and story I wanted to tell were vivid in my mind, my sentences weren’t up to the task, so I turned to other pursuits. I left Montreal at eighteen to attend Brandeis University, then lived in Colorado for several years before returning to Canada in the mid 1980’s.
I did not begin writing fiction until moving to Vancouver in 1988. Soon after arriving there I began to notice frequent small articles in the local newspaper about women going missing from a particular area of Vancouver that had a high concentration of drug use and sex trade. The women who were disappearing were sex trade workers, and the articles were generally tucked into the middle of the paper, as if such women did not merit front page coverage when they were clearly being preyed upon by one or more serial killers. Vancouver‘s indifference to this tragedy was the impetus behind Throwaway Angels, my first novel. It was published in 1996, six years before an arrest was made in the case of Vancouver’s missing women.
My second novel grew out of the circumstances of my own birth. My paternal grandfather died a few hours before I was born and I often wondered what it was like for my father to experience the joy of my birth at the same moment that he was grieving his father’s death. Your Mouth is Lovely opens with a birth accompanied by death. The first sentence came to me one morning, seemingly out of nowhere, and as I wrote it down it led me into a world I felt I had always known at some level and was now able to bring to life. It was the world of my grandparents, 19th and early 20th century Eastern Europe, where daily life still followed the time worn contours of tradition and religious custom as the forces of change that would soon destroy that way of life were building both from within and without. My strong interest in the history, literature and culture of Russia and eastern Europe had led me to pursue graduate work in that area long before I started writing this book, so I was able to draw on extensive background knowledge to give voice to the characters in Your Mouth is Lovely.
Photo by Shelia Berlin
In all my writing I explore the slipperiness of morality and identity in the face of extreme loss and threat, though the settings and circumstances change with each novel. The Imposter Bride is set in the postwar Jewish community of Montreal, the setting of my own childhood. Here, too, one of the igniting sparks was an event in my family history: My paternal grandmother immigrated to Canada for the purposes of marriage, only to be rejected by her prospective bridegroom at the moment of her arrival in Montreal. The young woman who arrives in Montreal at the beginning of The Imposter Bride faces the same crushing rejection that greeted my grandmother at the start of her new life in Canada, but her circumstances are entirely different. The arrival I depict in that opening scene is drawn from my mother’s descriptions of greeting relatives who came to Montreal in the late forties, having survived the Second World War in eastern Europe. The Montreal that I describe grew out my own experiences and memories of a community where loss and dislocation lay at the core of so many people’s lives.
I wrote The Imposter Bride while living in Vancouver. The distance, both geographic and temporal, helped to distill my memories and impressions of the Montreal of my childhood. Vancouver has been home for the last 25 years. For many of those years my partner and I had a small blueberry farm in the Fraser Valley that we shared with a few friends. I am currently living in Montreal again, with my partner Vicki Trerise and our dog Bella.