A migrant worker's UK journey

2008-10-02 08:05

ROSE Tremain is a gifted author who has written an exceptional novel of wry melancholy about the current wave of economic migration that is changing the face of Europe and the UK.

Lev is on his way from his unnamed Eastern European country to London, in search of work. He is a widower with a daughter and an elderly mother to support, and no prospects of doing so in the economically depressed village of Auror that he calls home.

He starts out with little money and few words of English, his only ambition being to earn a decent wage for honest labour so that he can send money back to his family. However, surviving in London is not as easy as he had thought it would be. He finds the British streets hostile, the pubs cliquey, the people bloated and unfriendly, and obsessed with celebrity. He struggles to find work and after a few nights of sleeping rough, with his meagre funds fast disappearing, he turns to a woman he met on the trans-Europe bus for help. Lydia is a translator with wealthy friends and with her assistance he lands work as a dishwasher in an upmarket restaurant, and finds accommodation with a divorced Irish plumber who is almost as lonely as he is.

At the restaurant Lev learns to appreciate good food and starts to develop his cooking skills. He also becomes sexually involved with a co-worker, the sassy, sexy Sophie, a liaison that results in his being fired. He moves on to an asparagus farm in Suffolk and then gradually makes his way back home to Auror where he plans to open his own restaurant.

Tremain's novel about the migrant experience is by turns poignant, dark, quirky and unsettling. Lev's loneliness and isolation are heart-wrenching at times, but throughout there is a sense of optimism, of a belief in a better future, that makes this an uplifting read.

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