Sunday, January 11, 2009

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka .

On the back cover of this book is the blurb...

A field of strawberries in Kent and sitting in it two caravans - one for men and one for women. The residents are from all over: miner's son Andriy is from the old Ukraine, while sexy young Irina is from the new: they eye each other warily. There are Poles, Tomasz and Yola; two Chinese girls; and Emanuel from Malawi. They're all here to pick strawberries in England's green and pleasant land. But these days England's not so pleasant for immigrants. Not with Russian gangster-wannabes like Vulk, who's taken a shine to Irina and thinks kidnapping is a wooing strategy. And so Andriy - who really doesn't fancy Irina, honest - must set off in search of that girl he's not in love with.

...Okay, so what do you get for your money? This book has 310 pages in it. It is a jolly book about migrant workers here in the UK. This novel explores the scams that businesses use on migrant workers throughout the world. Marina is spot on with the cultures of migrant workers and peppers her story with mild humour like on page 22...

He doesn't remember much about Sheffield, but three things stand out in his memory from that visit. First, he recalls, there was a banquet, and a sticky pink desert, of which he ate so much that he was later horribly, messily, pinkily sick in the back of a car.

Second, he remembers that the renowned visionary ruler of the city, who had welcomed them warmly with a long-long speech about solidarity and dignity of labour (the speech has so impressed his father that he repeated it many times over), who had sat next to him at the banquet and kindly pressed more and more of that treacherous pink desert on him, and in the back of whose car he had later been sick - this man was blind. The man's astonishing blindness, the fearsome all-excluding wall bricked up behind the visionary eyes, had fascinated Andriy. He had closed his eyes tight and tried to imagine what it would be like to live behind that wall of blindness; he went around bumping into things, until his father slapped him and told him to behave himself.

...and on page 134...

Yola was in a foul mood. She had discovered that morning, don't ask how, that the Slovak women who shared their hotel room had no pubic hair. How could this be permitted? Presumably they were not born this way - well, presumably they were, but acquired it in the natural course of things, and had taken unnatural steps to remove it. There are many bad things that can be said about communism, but one thing is certain, in communist times women did not abuse their pubic hair in this way - a practice which is unnatural, unsightly, undignified and, without being too specific, potentially dangerous.

...I enjoyed this book and I vote it a HIT. It explores the economic realities of migrant workers here in the UK. Marina clearly has her finger on the pulse. This novel shows the ugly face of capitalism and the characters in this book are the victims, not the heroes. There is romance in this book which is written in the style of a thriller. Marina is a clever writer and her book shows the other side of the coin. Okay, I have criticized the Poles before on this blog but this book explores the human side of their quest for work. It reminds me of the text in The Woods by Harlan Coben where he writes "That was how it often was. It was easy to hate gays or blacks or Jews or Arabs. It was more difficult to hate individuals". And so it is with this book, the economic migrants into our country are so easy to hate because of the effect they have had on our employment, pay and conditions. It is more difficult to hate them when they become separate characters in a book who have done their level best to find some work yet become victims themselves to the same penny-pinching employers that we suffer. These migrant workers are not having a picnic but are exploited the same as other migrant workers the world over. Employers want cheap labour and the middle-men who provide this workforce cash in whilst these workers suffer bad pay and appalling working conditions. This novel is about politics and it is an enjoyable read in the same way as Mark Steel's column in the Independent newspaper.

When I had finished reading this novel it became obvious to me why Marina had dedicated this book to the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers .

I agree with the review of this book published in the Times and because of the quality of Marina's writing I will be happy to invest in a copy of her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian .
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