Political perspectives of two Ukrainians

2008-10-02 08:05

Marina Lewycka made a name for herself with the publication of her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. Her focus in Two Caravans is on the influx of masses of disillusioned and dream-filled individuals, notably from eastern Europe, who seek opportunities for casual, unskilled labour in England. Hoping for financial gain and perhaps the chance of a romance, such people are all too frequently exploited both by indigenous employers and by the unscrupulously ambitious among their own fellows.

While Lewycka assembles a considerable international cast - which includes people from the Far East and Africa, a host of eastern Europeans, a miscellany of stereotypes from the spectrum of British society and even a stray dog - her narrative is particularly concerned with the fortunes of two Ukrainians, Irina and Andriy, who represent differing political perspectives and social standing in that country.

The narrative highlights the conditions of strawberry pickers in Kent, of those working in the chicken farming industry, of those who attempt fishing off the Dover pier, of those who are employed as waitrons and kitchen hands, of those who succumb to, or are forced into, prostitution. It is told in a number of voices - the authorial voice interjected with the first person observations of protagonist, Irina; with the anthropomorphised thoughts of Dog; and with letters penned by a naïve Malawian, in a floral style replete with the malapropisms that bedevil second-language communication.

Despite the fundamentally serious nature of the material and some shocking revelations - notably about the chicken farming business - Lewycka writes with fun and frolic that descends - rather too often - into farce. Thus the work is essentially light and its impact will not be lingering. One closes the novel with a sense of having spent some pleasant hours among its pages. That is all.

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