Monday, June 11, 2007

Immigrant Song

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 na├»ve 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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just HOW similar is this to A Short History? Cos I flipped through it at Landmark, and it felt as though I'd read this before.

Sanjay Sipahimalani said...

The prose style is similar, naturally, but it's quite different. If you liked that, you'll like this.