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Linda Grant
You describe Vivien as a solitary, bookish child and she was born around the same time as you. Can we assume that there is something of you in her?
No. There is nothing at all that is autobiographical. However I did base the book very closely on my experiences as a pimp in pre-war Budapest.
What was the inspiration for THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS.
I was very interested in the figure of Peter Rachman, as a man vilified by the media at the time because of his treatment of black tenants in his houses in Notting Hill. But the man was also a Holocaust survivor and I wanted to test the notion, which I consider a bit babyish, that suffering somehow ennobles, because there’s not much evidence that it does. So Sandor survives not because he is good but because he is a pragmatist who understands that he must harden his soul if he is to escape alive.
You say at the end of the book that Uncle Sandor was based on Peter Rachman the infamous slum landlord. Does your journalistic training help when researching a novel or is it a different process altogether?
I read one biography of Rachman published in the 70s, and then discarded most of the detail. Sandor and Rachman do not have the same biographies, because he could not breathe if he was weighed down by fact.
Do clothes maketh the man?
We continuously read people by what they wear, they’re a walking billboard not just of style and taste, but age, class etc. And of course you can alter others’ perceptions of you by altering your clothes, and then even become what you appear to be, as my immigrant grandparents realised when they came to this country.
You were the only woman out of the short-listed six for the Booker prize. Do you think this says anything?
It says that publishers are not even entering many women writers for the prize
Which authors do you admire?
Philip Roth, Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Taylor, Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Roth, Vasily Grossman, Stefan Zweig
Linda Grant

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