TWO CARAVANS Marina Lewycka
In this follow-up to the charming A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, Marina Lewycka takes the same theme – immigrants from the former USSR searching for a better life in the United Kingdom – to come up with a novel that tries to be technically superior, and is as droll as her debut.
It opens on an idyllic English countryside – only, this one is populated by strawberry-picking migrants. They’re from Poland, Ukraine, Africa and China, including the Dylan-loving Tomasz, the determined Andriy, the naïve Irina and the wide-eyed Emmanuel. After a fracas precipitated by a farmer’s wife, their lives become a series of farcical travails.
Lewycka details the occupations they’re forced into for less-than-minimum wages: chicken farming, waitressing and dishwashing, among others. (Warning: the section on chickens will put you off your next non-vegetarian meal.) Ultimately, the book becomes the love story of Andriy and Irina, taking a road trip to outwit thuggish employment agents. Pity: this narrowing of focus and dependence on coincidence is a let-down.
The prose is cheerful and twinkling -- though the patois of Emmanuel’s letters and the delineation of a dog’s consciousness get a trifle wearying. It’s the ironic, witty sensibility that keeps you engaged.
Worth your while? Yes: a good example of how unpleasant subjects don’t have to be written about in grim tones to engage the heart and mind.