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Edward MarriottThe Road Home is thematically rich, dealing with loss and separation, mourning and melancholia....As always, Tremain's writing has a delicious, crunchy precision.
— The Observer (UK)
In the wake of factory closings and his beloved wife's death, Lev makes his way from Eastern Europe to
In the wake of factory closings and his beloved wife's death, Lev makes his way from Eastern Europe to
Homesickness dogs Lev, not only for nostalgic reasons, but because he doesn't belong, body or soul, to his new country--but can he really go home again? Rose Tremain's prodigious talents as a prose writer are on full display in THE ROAD HOME, and her novel never loses sight of what is truly important in the lives we lead.
Tremain (Restoration) turns in a low-key but emotionally potent look at the melancholia of migration for her 14th book. Olev, a 42-year-old widower from an unnamed former east bloc republic, is taking a bus to London, where he imagines every man resembles Alec Guinness and hard work will be rewarded by wealth. He has left behind a sad young daughter, a stubborn mother and the newly shuttered sawmill where he had worked for years. His landing is harsh: the British are unpleasant, immigrants are unwelcome, and he's often overwhelmed by homesickness. But Lev personifies Tremain's remarkable ability to craft characters whose essential goodness shines through tough, drab circumstances. Among them are Lydia, the fellow expatriate; Christy, Lev's alcoholic Irish landlord who misses his own daughter; and even the cruelly demanding Gregory, chef-proprietor of the posh restaurant where Lev first finds work. A contrived but still satisfying ending marks this adroit émigré's look at London. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Winner of the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, this latest book by Tremain (The Colour) is the story of widower Lev, an economic migrant who travels from the Eastern Bloc to London to find work to support his child back home. Actress/narrator Juliet Stevenson's (To the Lighthouse) distinct rendering of each character gives this recording the feel of a full-cast production. Listeners who enjoy Anita Brookner and literary fiction will be moved by this realistic portrait. Highly recommended. [Audio clip available through
“Tremain is a magnificent story-teller.”
–Independent on Sunday
ON THE COACH, Lev chose a seat near the back and he sat huddled against the window, staring out at the land he was leaving: at the fields of sunflowers scorched by the dry wind, at the pig farms, at the quarries and rivers and at the wild garlic growing green at the edge of the road.
Lev wore a leather jacket and jeans and a leather cap pulled low over his eyes, and his handsome face was gray-toned from his smoking, and in his hands he clutched an old red cotton handkerchief and a dented pack of Russian cigarettes. He would soon be forty-three. After some miles, as the sun came up, Lev took out a cigarette and stuck it between his lips, and the woman sitting next to him, a plump, contained person with moles like splashes of mud on her face, said quickly, "I'm sorry, but there is no smoking allowed on this bus." Lev knew this, had known it in advance, had tried to prepare himself mentally for the long agony of it. But even an unlit cigarette was a companion -something to hold on to, something that had promise in it -and all he could be bothered to do now was to nod, just to show the woman that he'd heard what she'd said, reassure her that he wasn't going to cause trouble; because there they would have to sit for fifty hours or more, side by side, with their separate aches and dreams, like a married couple. They would hear each other's snores and sighs, smell the food and drink each had brought with them, note the degree to which each was fearful or unafraid, make short forays into conversation. And then later, when they finally arrived in London, they would probably separate with barely a word or a look, walk out into a rainy morning, each alone and beginning a new life. And Lev thought how all of this was odd but necessary and already told him things about the world he was traveling to, a world in which he would break his back working -if only that work could be found. He would hold himself apart from other people, find corners and shadows in which to sit and smoke, demonstrate that he didn't need to belong, that his heart remained in his own country.
There were two coach drivers. These men would take turns to drive and to sleep. There was an on-board lavatory, so the only stops the bus would make would be for gas. At gas stations, the passengers would be able to clamber off, walk a few paces, see wild flowers on a verge, soiled paper among bushes, sun or rain on the road. They might stretch up their arms, put on dark glasses against the onrush of nature's light, look for a clover leaf, smoke and stare at the cars rushing by. Then they would be herded back onto the coach, resume their old attitudes, arm themselves for the next hundred miles, for the stink of another industrial zone or the sudden gleam of a lake, for rain and sunset and the approach of darkness on silent marshes. There would be times when the journey would seem to have no end.
Sleeping upright was not something Lev was practised in. The old seemed to be able to do it, but forty-two was not yet old. Lev's father, Stefan, sometimes used to sleep upright, in summer, on a hard wooden chair in his lunch break at the Baryn sawmill, with the hot sun falling onto the slices of sausage wrapped in paper on his knee and onto his flask of tea. Both Stefan and Lev could sleep lying down on a mound of hay or on the mossy carpet of a forest. Often, Lev had slept on a rag rug beside his daughter's bed, when she was ill or afraid. And when his wife, Marina, was dying, he'd lain for five nights on an area of linoleum flooring no wider than his outstretched arm, between Marina's hospital bed and a curtain patterned with pink and purple daisies, and sleep had come and gone in a mystifying kind of way, painting strange pictures in Lev's brain that had never completely vanished. Toward evening, after two stops for gas, the mole-flecked woman unwrapped a hard-boiled egg. She peeled it silently. The smell of the egg reminded Lev of the sulfur springs at Jor, where he'd taken Marina, just in case nature could cure what man had given up for lost. Marina had immersed her body obediently in the scummy water, lain there looking at a female stork returning to its high nest, and said to Lev, "If only we were storks."
"Why d'you say that?" Lev had asked.
"Because you never see a stork dying. It's as though they didn't die."
If only we were storks.
On the woman's knee a clean cotton napkin was spread and her white hands smoothed it, and she unwrapped rye bread and a twist of salt.
"My name is Lev," said Lev.
"My name is Lydia," said the woman. And they shook hands, Lev's hand holding the scrunched-up kerchief and Lydia's hand rough with salt and smelling of egg, and then Lev asked, "What are you planning to do in En gland?" and Lydia said, "I have some interviews in London for jobs as a translator."
"That sounds promising."
"I hope so. I was a teacher of English at School 237 in Yarbl, so my language is very colloquial."
Lev looked at Lydia. It wasn't difficult to imagine her standing in front of a class and writing words on a blackboard. He said, "I wonder why you're leaving our country when you had a good job at School 237 in Yarbl?"
"Well," said Lydia, "I became very tired of the view from my window. Every day, summer and winter, I looked out at the schoolyard and the high fence and the apartment block beyond, and I began to imagine I would die seeing these things, and I didn't want this. I expect you understand what I mean?"
Lev took off his leather cap and ran his fingers through his thick gray hair. He saw Lydia turn to him for a moment and look very seriously into his eyes. He said, "Yes, I understand."
Then there was a silence, while Lydia ate her hard-boiled egg. She chewed very quietly. When she'd finished the egg, Lev said, "My English isn't too bad. I took some classes in Baryn, but my teacher told me my pronunciation wasn't very good. May I say some words and you can tell me if I'm pronouncing them correctly?"
"Yes, of course," said Lydia.
Lev said, "Lovely. Sorry. I am legal. How much, please? Thank you. May you help me?"
"May I help you," corrected Lydia.
"May I help you," repeated Lev.
"Go on," said Lydia.
"Stork," said Lev. "Stork's nest. Rain. I am lost. I wish for an interpreter. Bee-and-bee."
"Be-and-be?" said Lydia. "No, no. You mean 'to be, or not to be.'"
"No," said Lev. "Bee-and-bee. Family hotel, quite cheap." "Oh yes, I know. B&B."
Lev could now see that darkness was falling outside the window and he thought how, in his village, darkness had always arrived in precisely the same way, from the same direction, above the same trees, whether early or late, whether in summer, winter, or spring, for the whole of his life. This darkness -particular to that place, Auror -was how, in Lev's heart, darkness would always fall. And so he told Lydia that he came from Auror, had worked in the Baryn sawmill until it closed two years ago, and since then he'd found no work at all, and his family -his mother, his five-year-old daugh-ter, and he -had lived off the money his mother made selling jewelry manufactured from tin.
"Oh," said Lydia. "I think that's very resourceful, to make jewelry from tin."
"Sure," said Lev. "But it isn't enough."
Tucked into his boot was a small flask of vodka. He extracted the flask and took a long swig. Lydia kept eating her rye bread. Lev wiped his mouth with the red handkerchief and saw his face reflected in the coach window. He looked away. Since the death of Marina, he didn't like to catch sight of his own reflection, because what he always saw in it was his own guilt at still being alive.
"Why did the sawmill at Baryn close?" asked Lydia.
"They ran out of trees," said Lev.
"Very bad," said Lydia. "What other work can you do?" Lev drank again. Someone had told him that in England vodka was too expensive to drink. Immigrants made their own alcohol from potatoes and tap water, and when Lev thought about these industrious immigrants, he imagined them sitting by a coal fire in a tall house, talking and laughing, with rain falling outside the window and red buses going past and a television flickering in a corner of the room. He sighed and said, "I will do any work at all. My daughter, Maya, needs clothes, shoes, books, toys, everything. England is my hope." Toward ten o'clock, red blankets were given out to the coach passengers, some of whom were already sleeping. Lydia put away the remnants of her meal, covered her body with the blanket, and switched on a fierce little light above her under the baggage rack and began reading a faded old paperback, printed in English. Lev saw that the title of her book was The Power and the Glory. His longing for a cigarette had grown steadily since he'd drunk the vodka and now it was acute. He could feel the yearning in his lungs and in his blood, and his hands grew fidgety and he felt a tremor in his legs. How long before the next gas stop? It could be four or five hours. Everyone on the bus would be asleep by then, except him and one of the two drivers. Only they would keep a lonely, exhausting vigil, the driver's body tensed to the moods and alarms of the dark, unraveling road; his own aching for the comfort of nicotine or oblivion -and getting neither. He envied Lydia, immersed in her English book. Lev knew he had to distract himself with something. He'd brought with him a book of fables: improbable stories about women who turned into birds during the hours of darkness, and a troop of wild boar that killed and roasted their hunters. But Lev was feeling too agitated to read such fantastical things. In desperation, he took from his wallet a brand-new British twenty-pound note and reached up and switched on his own little reading light and began to examine the note. On one side, the frumpy Queen, E II R, with her diadem, her face gray on a purple ground, and on the other, a man, some personage from the past, with a dark drooping mustache and an angel blowing a trumpet above him and all the angel's radiance falling on him in vertical lines. "The British venerate their history," Lev had been told in his En glish class, "chiefly because they have never been subjected to Occupation. Only intermittently do they see that some of their past deeds were not good."
The indicated life span of the man on the note was 1857-1934. He looked like a banker, but what had he done to be on a twentypound note in the twenty-first century? Lev stared at his determined jaw, squinted at his name written out in a scrawl beneath the wing collar, but couldn't read it. He thought that this was a person who would never have known any other system of being alive but Capitalism. He would have heard the names Hitler and Stalin, but not been afraid -would have had no need to be afraid of anything except a little loss of capital in what Americans called the Crash, when men in New York had jumped out of windows and off roofs. He would have died safely in his bed before London was bombed to ruins, before Europe was torn apart. Right to the end of his days, the angel's radiance had probably shone on this man's brow and on his fusty clothes, because 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. Lev was roused from his thoughts by the noise of Lydia's book falling to the floor of the bus, and he looked at her and saw that she'd gone to sleep, and he studied her face with its martyrdom of moles.
He put her age at about thirty-nine. She appeared to sleep without travail. He imagined her sitting in some booth with earphones clamped to her mousy hair, buoyant and alert on a relentless tide of simultaneous translation. May you help me, please? No. May I help you.
Lev decided, as the night progressed, to try to remember certain significant cigarettes of the past. He possessed a vibrant imagination. At the Baryn sawmill he'd been known, derogatorily, as a "dreamer." "Life is not for dreaming, Lev," his boss had warned. "Dreaming leads to subversion." But Lev knew that his nature was fragile, easily distracted, easily made joyful or melancholy by the strangest of small things, and that this condition had afflicted his boyhood and his adolescence and had, perhaps, prevented him from getting on as a man.
Especially after Marina had gone. Because now her death was with him always, like a shadow on the X-ray of his spirit. Other men might have been able to chase this shadow away -with drink, or with young women, or with the novelty of making money -but Lev hadn't even tried. He knew that forgetting Marina was something he was not yet capable of doing.
All around him on the coach, passengers were dozing. Some lay slumped toward the aisle, their arms hanging loosely down in an attitude of surrender. The air was filled with repetitive sighing. Lev pulled the peak of his cap farther over his face and decided to remember what was always known by him and his mother, Ina, as "the poinsettia miracle," because this was a story that led toward a good ending, toward a smoke as immaculate as love.
Ina was a woman who never allowed herself to care about any-thing, because, she often said, "What's the point of it, when life takes everything away?" But there were a few things that gave her joy and one of these was the poinsettia. Scarlet-leafed and shaped like a fir, resembling a brilliant man-made artifact more than a living plant, poinsettias excited in Ina a sober admiration, for their unique strangeness, for their seeming permanence in a world of perpetually fading and dying things.
One Sunday morning some years ago, near to Ina's sixty-fifth birthday, Lev had got up very early and cycled twenty-four miles to Yarbl, where flowers and plants were sold in an open-air market behind the railway station. It was an almost autumnal day, and on the silent figures setting out their stalls a tender light was falling. Lev smoked and watched from the railway buffet, where he drank coffee and vodka. Then he went out and began to look for poinsettias.
Most of the stuff sold in the Yarbl market was fledgling food: cabbage plants, sunflower seeds, sprouting potatoes, currant bushes, bilberry canes. But more and more people were indulging their halfforgotten taste for decorative, useless things and the sale of flowers was increasing as each year passed.
Poinsettias were always visible from a long way off. Lev walked slowly along, alert for red. The sun shone on his scuffed black shoes. His heart felt strangely light. His mother was going to be sixty-five years old and he would surprise and astonish her by planting a trough of poinsettias on her porch, and in the evenings she would sit and do her knitting and admire them, and neighbors would arrive and congratulate her -on the flowers and on the care her son had taken.
But there were no poinsettias in the market. Up and down Lev trudged, staring bleakly at carrot fern, at onion sets, at plastic bags filled with pig manure and ash.
The great catastrophe of this now announced itself to Lev. So he began again, retracing his steps along the lines of stalls, stopping now and then to badger the stall holders, recognizing that this badgering was accusatory, suggestive of the notion that these people were grays, keeping the red plants out of sight under the trestles, waiting for buyers who offered American dollars or motor parts or drugs. "I need poinsettias," he heard himself say, like a man parched with thirst or a petulant only child.
"Sorry, comrade," said the market traders. "Only at Christmas." All he could do was pedal home to Auror. Behind his bicycle he dragged a homemade wooden trailer (built with offcuts poached from the Baryn lumber yard) and the wheels of this trailer squeaked mockingly as the miles passed. The emptiness of Ina's sixty-fifth birthday yawned before Lev like an abandoned mine.
Lev shifted quietly in his seat, trying not to disturb Lydia's sleep. He laid his head on the cool window glass. Then he remembered the sight that had greeted him, like a vision, in some lost village along the road: an old woman dressed in black, sitting silently on a chair in front of her house, with a baby sleeping in a plastic pram by her side. And at her feet a motley of possessions for sale: a gramophone, some scales and weights, an embroidered shawl, a pair of leather bellows. And a barrow of poinsettia plants, their leaves newly tinctured with red.
Lev had wobbled on the bike, wondering if he was dreaming. He put a foot down on the dusty road. "Poinsettias, Grandma, are they?"
"Is that their name? I call them red flags." He bought them all. The trailer was crammed and heavy. His money was gone.
He hid them under sacks until it was dark, planted them out in Ina's trough under the stars, and stood by them, watching the dawn come up, and when the sun reached them, the red of their leaves intensified in a startling way, as when desert crocuses bloom after rain. And that was when Lev lit a cigarette. He sat down on the steps of Ina's porch and smoked and stared at the poinsettias, and the cigarette was like radiant amber in him, and he smoked it right down to its last centimeter and then put it out, but still kept it pressed into his muddy hand.
Excerpted from The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Copyright © 2007 by Rose Tremain. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 14, 2010
This is another book that I just happened upon while looking through the new acquisitions shelves at the library. It just caught my eye, and I checked the reviews before checking it out
This is the story of Lev, who goes to England from his home in an Eastern European country to find work when he loses his job in a lumber yard because all the trees have been cut down. He apparently justs sets off with no planning at all about what he will do or where he will stay when he gets there. This seemed unlikely to me, since he is generally a reasonable person. His life in England starts hard but eventually he gets some help to find a job and a place to live and ends up working hard to raise the money that enables him to return home and try to make a new life for himself, his family and his friends.
I enjoyed the book a lot. The only drawback for me was when Lev became somewhat violent. It seemed unprecedented, but then the author mentions that he has a history of anger control issues, that he was trying to keep under control in England. It would have helped me understand his character and his actions if this had been brought out earlier. (Or, maybe I missed it?)
Posted February 26, 2009
I was eager to read The Road Home as the description of the book sounded interesting. The book was quite disappointing and did not finish reading the last several chapters. The characters become mundane and do not grow as the story progresses plus the language was repetative. If I read the word F - - - one more time, I thought I would scream. That type of language took away from the book.
This is not a book I would recommend to anyone to read.
Posted October 2, 2008
After the death of his wife , whom he dearly loved, and losing his job due to a factory closing, Lev travels to London. He leaves behind his daughter and his mother. Eventually, he finds a job working in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant and a room with an Irish landlord. Lev finds it hard to adjust to his new life. He misses his family. Rose Tremain deftly shares the tale of a present day immigrant. She describes the pain of leaving and missing those you love and your native land. The pain of feeling out of place in a strange new country should bring sympathy to modern day immigrants. She develops her lead character into someone the readers will actually care about. Most of this book is an intriguing read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 10, 2009
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Posted April 2, 2009
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