THE ROAD HOME by Rose Tremain
“…it was known across the world: the English were lucky. Well, thought Lev, I’m going to their country now, and I’m going to make them share it with me: their infernal luck. I’ve left Auror, and that leaving of my home was hard and bitter, but my time is coming”.
Review by Bonnie Brody (DEC 16, 2009)
The eminent, award-winning British Author, Rose Tremain, has written another lovely book. The Road Home is about Lev, an eastern European immigrant and his travails and successes in the big city of London. Lev is a widower who has left his child with his mother in Auror, a small town in eastern Europe. Lev hopes to seek his fortune in London, expecting to make a lot of money and be able to send it home to support his family. He has arrived in London with about 100 pounds in his pocket and nothing else. On the bus that takes him from his small town of Auror to the big city, he is seated next to a woman named Lydia who shares her hard boiled eggs with Lev and gives him advice. She is fairly fluent in English and expects to get a job as a translator in England. Lev is Candide-like in his expectations, not really understanding the social or economic influences that will come to play in his life.
Once in London, Lev spends 20 pounds of his 100 pounds for a Bed and Breakfast his first night, naively realizing that the one hundred pounds won’t last him very long. He walks into a few establishments asking for work and winds up meeting a man named Ahmed who runs a mid-eastern restaurant. Ahmed hires Lev to distribute fliers at a very small wage. Ahmed, though, is nice to Lev and talks to him about being an immigrant in England. This is a recurrent theme in the book. Despite the difficulty of the immigrant experience, Lev runs into several people who are kind to him and take the time to help him with the huge transition he is facing.
Lev loves to drink vodka, any time any place. He reminisces about his friend Rudi, his best friend, back in Auror. Rudi has a “Tchevy,” an old second-hand Chevrolet that he loves like a baby. Lev has wonderful and humorous stories that he shares about his adventures with Rudi and the “Tchevy.” In fact, Lev is a dreamer and very caught up in the past in many ways, not always nostalgically like with memories of Rudi and the “Tchevy.” Lev thinks a lot about his dead wife, Marina, who he loved very much, and these thoughts haunt him. Marina has been dead for several years now and Lev has yet to have another relationship with a woman. Lev also worries about his daughter and mother, subsisting in Auror.
Lev finds himself sleeping on the streets for a few nights, down and humiliated. He decides to call Lydia for help in finding housing and a job. Lydia left Lev her mobile number but Lev was reluctant to call her, not wanting her to think he was interested in her romantically. Lydia does help Lev secure a job as a dishwasher in a posh restaurant and find a room to rent in a nice neighborhood. However, his relationship with Lydia becomes difficult because Lydia wants more from Lev than just a friendship. Lev has difficulty coping with the challenges he faces with Lydia and frequently behaves impulsively and angrily.
Lev thrives in his restaurant job, realizing that he loves the atmosphere and wants to learn how to cook. He is a very hard worker who also is kind to other employees who are having difficulties with their job. He is very attracted to Sophie, one of the restaurant employees. Lev eventually winds up getting promoted to vegetable cutter and tries to memorize as many of the recipes that he can. When things don’t go as planned in his relationship with Sophie, Lev has to leave this job and finds himself hired as a cook at an old-age home where he has done some volunteer work. He is also working as a waiter in a Greek restaurant – – two full-time jobs. He has a secret dream and this sustains him as he works grueling hours to save money.
Lev’s housing situation in London goes well. He and his Landlord, Clancy, become friends as well as tenant and renter. Clancy is a plumber who is recently divorced and drinking too much. He is not allowed any time with his daughter except for supervised visits. Lev and Sophie help Clancy to arrange time with his daughter and they all go to the beach together. Clancy and Lev spend hours drinking and talking about their pasts, their present and their dreams.
One of Lev’s primary difficulties in London is the culture. He goes to a play about incest and becomes incensed at the theme – – to the point of rage. He thinks about his lovely child back in Auror and can’t imagine someone wanting to have sex with their own child. He gets into a fight with someone at the theater and ends up getting into trouble with the police. There is a deep rage in Lev that tends to surface when he is faced with cultural predicaments which he doesn’t understand and for which he has no coping skills.
The book is beautifully written with wonderful character development. When I finished the book, Lev, Lydia, Sophie, Marina, Clancy, and Rudi all seemed like real people to me. Ms. Tremain has a gift for fleshing out her characters. I also appreciate her hard look at the problems faced by immigrants and the way that they frequently misconstrue language and cultural differences. The book leaves nothing hanging. By the end, all the elements come together beautifully and we are privy to Lev’s dream. This is indeed a wonderful novel.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 32 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (May 21, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Road Home|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on Rose Tremain|
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