David (thisplacehere) wrote in bookish,

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (2007)

This is the story of Lev, an economic migrant who travels to London from Eastern Europe (his country is never named, and may even be fictional; perhaps this is meant to suggest that we Brits tend to lump the countries of Eastern Europe together, rather than thinking of them as individual nations). His aim is to facilitate a better life for his mother and daughter back home (his wife having died of cancer previously), but he finds that it's not going to be as simple as he might have imagined. Eventually, though, he is able to rent a decent room, and lands decent work in a restaurant kitchen, where he meets -- and takes a shine to -- a fellow employee, Sophie. Then life and love take a turn for the worse, and Lev has to leave London, ending up picking asparagus in Suffolk, where he has the Great Idea that might transform the fortunes of his family -- if he can make it a reality.

I liked The Road Home, especially the earlier parts, where Lev is finding his feet. Tremain shows how difficult it is for him, how an intelligent person with an eventful life can be reduced to just another immigrant in the eyes of people in a country where he doesn't speak the language. There's one scene I found particularly telling, where Lev meets some of Sophie's friends, a parodically pretentious artsy set, who are discussing a new play one of them has written about 'the extreme forms desire can take'. The playwright comments that his art is intended to shock, and Lev's reply indicates that he knows what real shock is -- but his opinions are dismissed out of hand. Yet the situation is not presented as simplistically as this may imply: Tremain is clear that Lev's life back home was hard, and that he had good reason to seek to improve his family's lot -- but there are no easy options for doing so.

The Road Home is not entirely successful: I suspect that the events of the novel would happen over a longer time-scale in real life than they do in the book. And I think Tremain idealises Lev's experience a bit too much towards the end. Still, I found this a good read overall.

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