The Road Home

The Road Home

by Rose Tremain

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Overview

In the wake of factory closings and his beloved wife's death, Lev makes his way from Eastern Europe to London, seeking work to support his mother and his little daughter. After a spell of homelessness, he finds a job in the kitchen of a posh restaurant and a room in the house of an appealing Irishman who has already lost his family. Never mind that Lev must sleep in a bunk bed surrounded by plastic toys--he has found a friend and shelter. However constricted his life in England remains, he compensates by daydreaming of home, by having an affair with a younger restaurant worker, and by trading gossip and ambitions via cell phone with his hilarious friend Rudi, who, dreaming of the wealthy West, lives largely for his battered Chevrolet.



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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316002622
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 05/21/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 612,988
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Rose Tremain's fiction has won the Whitbread Novel of the Year (Music and Silence) and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (Restoration) and the Orange Prize (The Colour). Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, among other periodicals, and one was selected for The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008. Rose Tremain lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer Richard Holmes.

Read an Excerpt

The Road Home
A Novel


By Rose Tremain
Little, Brown
Copyright © 2007

Rose Tremain
All right reserved.


ISBN: 978-0-316-00261-5



Chapter One Significant Cigarettes

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.

No poinsettias.

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.

(Continues...)



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.

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Road Home 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
BillPilgrim More than 1 year ago
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?)
blackhornet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific story, gripping from start to finish, touching, heartwarming and refreshingly devoid of too much trauma. BUT ... it struck me as a curious winner of the Orange Prize for Women's fiction. It's a book that doesn't seem to like women.Its focus is Eastern European immigrant, Lev. Lev is a modestly heroic figure, stoical, determined and, ultimately, capable of transforming his life and the lives of those around him. Ruggedly good looking, he clearly represents a figure attractive to Tremain's largely female readership. In his isolation and loneliness as he comes to London looking for work, he is there to be mothered/ loved. The only problem is, the quality of the women with whom he comes into contact. Lydia, fellow Eastern European whom he sits next to on the journey to England, is physically unattractive, with too many moles on her face. In the choices she makes later in the novel she comes close to prostituting herself. The young woman with whom he has a relationship later in the book makes a similar choice: in one disturbing scene she comes across as deserving of virtually being raped by Lev. The only woman good enough for him, it seems, is his dead wife, Marina. Even she may no longer be good enough. Towards the end of the novel he meets a woman strikingly similar to Marina but rejects her too, because she is not what he needs in this phase of his life.Early in the novel, Lev eats dinner as the guest of a middle-class couple in Muswell Hill. They have no link to him other than that he sat on the bus next to Lydia, who is a friend of theirs. The woman in this house takes pity on Lev and happily lets him stay overnight, sensing he has been sleeping rough. Here is the one woman deserving of Lev and, it seems, of the novel's approval: the liberal N. London reader of Tremain's fiction, someone who can help out the Levs of this world but who can ultimately withdraw back into her own space and have nothing to do with him. Enjoy him in a book, unlike all that other vulgar bunch.Gosh! More a criitique than a review. Good read, though.
Schopflin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of Rose Tremain's and this shares her best work's qualities of being moving, occasional amusing and filled with telling observational detail. There were times when I felt that Lev's story had to stand for those of all recent Polish economic migrants to the UK, meaning that incidents were included for this reason alone. There were also some mistakes, which shouldn't matter, but I'm surprised that the editor didn't pick up, for example, that Lev's mother would be very unlikely to have an icon in the house or celebrate Christmas on 25th December. There were continuity errors too which were a little irritating. However, I still enjoyed reading it and, while I wouldn't rank it with 'Restoration' I would recommend it.
tandah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found 'Road Home' to be OK, but not great. There were moments in the story where it really flowed and I couldnt put the book down; but structurally, there were too many threads, or perhaps overt devices, and it just wasn't measured. I think there were some really silly sexual scenes, perhaps put in there to appeal to a range of audiences, none that I recall as serving any purpose in advancing the story or building character depth/emotional range. Few of the main characters were sustainably likable (or for that matter unlikeable).I have some reservations in recommending it - though, as mentioned there are slabs of riveting story that maintained my interest for enough for me be interested to find out what happened.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think this may be a four star novel, but Juliet Steven's superb narration of this audio version of the novel bumps it up to a five star read! A tale of immigration, yearning for home, and building a life. Rose Tremain writes poignant so very well, and her character, Lev, is someone I will remember for a long time. It can be so complicated to survive!
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am almost pre-programmed in terms of what to expect from these novels about migrant workers ¿ shameless exploitation (as in `Two Caravans¿) or desperation and misery (`Grapes of Wrath). This one trod its own path however, leaving plenty of room for optimism. I liked the main character Lev, who comes from an unnamed country in Eastern Europe. I guess the lack of an identified country means he can embody the whole of that region. Only his home village ¿ Auror ¿ is named (if only I didn¿t picture Harry Potter every time I read it).There was an excellent supporting cast; I particularly liked landlord Christy whose Irish accent I could hear clear as a bell. I was never sure where the story was going but it was ultimately a tale of hope with underlying questions about what constitutes progress, both economic and cultural.
nyiper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing audio. In a small way I was reminded of how I felt as I listened to The Help, one of my favorite audios last year. Lev just grows on you as the man that he is--intent on being the best that he can be to help his family and in the process he develops an array of friendships/relationships and a wonderful dream. The complexity of the life he leads in trying to obtain his basic needs is emotionally beautiful as well as exhausting. Because the novel takes past in this century it is haunting -- the life he leads is in many ways no different than the life he would have led a hundred years ago, and the problems of being an immigrant are compounded now by suspicions and mistrust of anyone who is different--no matter how that difference manifests itself----one example being his middle-eastern friend and former employer describing the problems his fast food restaurant is having trying to stay open. I'm looking forward to reading/listening to other books by this author.
Tess22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rarely have I been so confused as to my opinion on a book. Let me say first that I'm generally a big fan of Tremain - I love The Colour and Music and Silence, and to a lesser extent enjoyed Restoration, and have always consider her to be excellent at building an atmosphere. In some ways The Road Home entirely lived up to expectations, and in others it was disappointing.I'll start with the positives. In the main character, Lev, Tremain gives an excellent portrayal of a man trying to build a better future while coming to terms with his wife's death. As ever, she is brilliant at creating complicated, deeply sympathetic but flawed characters and Lev is one of her best, along with a few strong supporting characters. The evolving friendship between Lev and his landlord is one of the most satisfying parts of the book, and while his English love interest is a little annoying, their contrasting values and personalities provide some insightful moments. Tremain perfectly captures the loneliness and confusion of being an immigrant, tied in with the loneliness and confusion of being bereaved. There is some interesting exploration of modern Britain, notably into underlying (and not so underlying) xenophobia, but also a humorous look at fashionable artists and writers. The differences between the shallow, absurd world Lev witnesses in this society contrasts with what he knows at home, which is an interesting perspective, but brings me on to my main frustration with the novel.Lev is from an unspecified country in Eastern Europe, and in her acknowledgments Tremain thanks the agricultural workers she interviewed in England. However, she doesn't seem to have gone to Eastern Europe herself, which is disappointing. I am far from believing that literature's only purpose is to change public opinion, but can't help thinking that the descriptions of Len's mother, his home town and his friends' experiences perpetuate the image of Eastern Europe as a backward, impoverished place which is out of touch with the modern world - some of the very ideas that other parts of the book try to challenge. Why doesn't Tremain give Lev's country a name? Is it to make his story more universal or is it to prevent offence? Offence, in my opinion, would be justified. While there are still some very poor rural places in Eastern Europe, her description is not true of the vast majority. Yes - it's harder to get world class cuisine - no, people are not blown away by American cars, women in their 60s are no stupider than anywhere else and goats don't generally wonder around the kitchen.It might have become clear that I'm not entirely objective. This is because I've lived in Central and Eastern Europe for a while now, teaching English. This brings me to my next point. At the beginning of the story Lev's English is distinctly dodgy, yet after about a year he is reading Hamlet. Similarly he gets a job as a dishwasher and ends up a gourmet chef. The affect these achievements have on his relationships with people from home (in particular his best friend) is interesting, but the shifting balance of confidence and leadership would have been much more effective if more subtle.Ultimately the story itself is just as involving as The Colour and Music and Silence, but minor elements were so frustrating that they distracted me from enjoying it thoroughly.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008.)Lev, an immigrant from a pointedly unnamed Eastern European country (probably one of the former Soviet republics), travels to London to find work. He struggles for a while, but not too terribly, and eventually comes up with a dream to take prosperity back to his country. He finds lodgings with a divorced man who misses his little daughter, just as Lev misses the child he left behind. Convenient. He sleeps in the little girl's former room, on her giraffe-sheeted bunk bed, among her abandoned toys. Hmmm... He falls in love with the wrong woman, and another woman wrongly falls in love with him. Unfortunate. While all the British characters have full names, neither Lev nor any of his compatriots from the nameless country have a surname. (What was that that just hit me over the head?) As simple as his name is, one person after another throughout the book gets it wrong. Uh huh. And they always get it wrong the same way--they call him "Olev". (Well, if that means something, it escapes me. Is that like calling all Arabs ¿Mohammed¿, or all Irishmen ¿Paddy¿?) Lev's home village is about to be flooded out for a hydroelectric plant that will give the area the reliable electricity they have never had, while destroying their ancestral homes and burial places. Oh, the irony.See, I think I was just too aware of the author¿s presence, of the fact that I was reading a significant work of literary fiction, to lose myself in the story. So is it the author's failing, or mine?I wish I could drum up some enthusiasm for the book. It's well written; there's no question about that. There are beautiful descriptive passages. The dialog works. The characters are real people, but not especially interesting people. Not engaging, not infuriating, not funny, not touching. Well, except for Lev's mother, who is rather infuriating, with her selfish response to his efforts to realize his dream. And one of his co-workers, Simone, whose descriptions of Lev's menu items at the old folks' home made me chuckle. "Chef's fantastic fish gratin with zero bones and non-crap crumb"; "Watermelon sorbet with no black seeds or rubbish in it.¿ The book ends on an optimistic note, and I¿m not even sure how I feel about that. Let¿s call it 3 1/2 stars.
Eliz12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was fortunate enough to stumble across this beautifully written book: a story of loss, loneliness and hope. I loved the characters - even the less-than-lovable ones - and often stayed up reading late into the night. Tremain is truly an exceptional author: one who both can write brilliantly and tell a good story.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 outThis 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?)
dchaikin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We meet Lev on bus, leaving his small Russian town to find work in London. A graying maybe 40-yr-old man, a compulsive smoker, he's leaving town because he's out of work (his lumber yard "ran out of trees") and nearly out of money. He's left his young daughter in care of his mother. He speaks only the barest English, he has no skills and he doesn't know anyone in London. It takes maybe 10 pages pages before he gets lost in a daydream. These daydreams of his past, typically of his deceased wife, are a continual occurrence. They are moving, and slowly they reveal his history. The mixture of these memories with his immigrant story is a powerful effect.In some ways Lev is a study of the immigrant stream in London. Already a broken person, he wanders hopelessly, can't afford a place to sleep or find job. He doesn't have plan. He is naive, culturally blown away, intimidated. And, he doesn't help himself by doing about everything wrong at the worst times. Yet, what is unique about Lev is his charm, his calm patience, even in the face disaster and especially his stories. As we shake our head at his terrible behavior, his self-destructive flings, and his pursuit of seemingly unreachable goals, he still charms us and carries us away with him on his daydreams. Through Lev's story, we meet an assortment of wonderfully drawn characters (in both the present and the past) giving us a cross-section through Russian and England. Rose Tremain simply tells good stories; and she creates and develops such memorable characters. Everyone we meet has something to offer us, some kind of insight into yet another cultural aspect or another style of personality. This is a nice book to get lost in.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lev is 43 years old and forced to leave his rural East European town to seek work in London. He has been widowed (his young wife Marina having died from Leukemia) and must support his daughter Maya and his elderly mother who remain behind in Russia. Lev barely speaks English and is at first bewildered by London. But Lydia, a woman he meets on the train, helps him find a job working in a posh restaurant where he meets the sexy Sophie. Lev eventually finds lodging with an Irishman named Christy Slane who is also experiencing loss.Lev¿s story is painful at times. He misses Marina - cannot seem to get past the loss of her - and struggles to save money to send home to his daughter and mother. His future seems hopeless and he misses his country and his best friend, Rudi - a gregarious man whose love affair with an American Chevy and his fondness for life make him immediately endearing.Rudi was everything this story made him out to be - and more. He was a force of nature. He was a lightning bolt. He was a fire that never went out. - from The Road Home, page 277 -It is largely Lev¿s friendship with men like Christy and Rudi which elevates him past his grief and imbues him with hope. When Lev recalls a hiking trip with Rudi to an isolated cave shortly after Marina¿s death, the reader begins to see there will be a future for him after all.It was at this moment - with Rudi halfway up the ladder - that he heard himself whispering to his friend, ¿Don¿t look down¿don¿t look back¿¿ and he felt that he suddenly understood why Rudi had brought him here and that the thing he had to embrace was the idea of perseverance. - from The Road Home, page 127 -The Road Home is a character driven novel about loss and identity. It is a novel which reminds the reader that the past must sometimes be left behind in order to move forward. Dreams are the fuel for overcoming obstacles in this story of a man who must leave his home in order to find it again. Lev is a dreamer and a romantic. He is a character who readers want to see succeed, a man whose flaws are surpassed by his kind and vulnerable heart.Rose Tremain has yet to disappoint me - I¿ve read Music and Silence and The Colour and found them both outstanding. Tremain¿s novels are written with sensitivity and insight into the human condition - and The Road Home is perhaps her finest work. This novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008.Highly recommended.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Road Home was the Orange Prize winning novel by Rose Tremain ¿ a story of Lev, a Russian immigrant living in London. Lev immigrated to Britain after the mill in his village closed, leaving him without a means to support his mother and daughter. The decision to leave his family was a hard one, but soon Lev discovered that his journey to survive in London would be even harder.Lev¿s journey led him to a renowned restaurant where he discovered two newfound passions: cooking and Sophie. Lev watched as the chefs prepared their meals, learning every ounce in hopes that he too would become a chef. Sophie worked in the kitchen, and with her, Lev learned that he could feel love and passion again as he dealt with the sudden death of his wife, Marina.The Road Home superbly discussed the hardships and the making of one¿s way in a new country. It also dealt with the themes of home. ¿Home is where you heart is,¿ as the saying goes, but it also is where you are at that moment, even if it¿s a temporary arrangement. The most profound aspect of The Road Home for me was the excellent characterization created by Tremain. Lev was so human ¿ fallible one minute, honorable the next. Filled with selfishness and then selflessness, he was the type of guy you could root for, despite his mistakes. Other male characters also livened up the story. Rudi, Lev¿s best friend in Russia, was funny, rude and vulnerable, dependent on Lev¿s admiration and friendship to help him live a better life. Christy was Lev¿s landlord ¿ a high-spirited Irish man, suffering from a divorce and the custodial loss of his daughter. It was a delight to read about such interesting men ¿ they really made this story.This is my second Tremain book, and while I enjoyed The Colour a little more, The Road Home was smart and provocative with memorable characters. I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good character-driven story, and I look forward to reading more from this talented storyteller.
LukeS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is a very great deal that grows out of this immigrant saga; it's nothing less than one would expect out of Ms. Tremain. Our hero, Lev, leaves an impoverished Russian town for the glitz and glamor of London. Eventually he shows good aptitude in food service and dreams of opening a high-end restaurant back in his home town.In London he learns about good product and good service, two things that have been lacking back home. He teaches as well. Those around him always come to like and admire him; he's a credit everywhere he goes. He finds and loses love; he earns a big enough settlement to seed his dream restaurant. So the road home leads through the lessons of London so Lev ("levitate"?) can return to his roots.We have memorable secondary characters here: the ruthless London restaurateur who comes to respect Lev, the shallow love interest, the wild-man taxi-driver/entrepreneur in Russia. Tremain gives us her warm, bright humanity and her wisdom here. She continues to be one of my very favorite authors.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Modern day protagonist Lev, leaves his home in Eastern Europe to find work in London, so he can send money home to his mother and daughter. His dead wife Marina haunts his dreams. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be in a foreign country with no money and speaking very little of the language, Lev's story spells it out as we follow him through his 18 month trial. The woman who sits next to him on the bus across Europe, Lydia, befriends him, then is disappointed that he doesn't respond to her romantic advances. At any rate, she helps him out of many situations and helps him find his first real job. There he falls for Sophie, who is the salad chef while he is the dishwasher. We follow him as he works his way up to salad chef, then Sophie dumps him and he loses his job and ends up going north to work on a vegetable farm picking asparagus. Here he develops his big dream in life, the thing he's been searching for: he will return to his home when he's saved up enough money to open a restaurant of his own. Back drop to all this is the development of Lev's friend back home, Rudy; his landlord, Christy Slane; JK Ashe, his first boss; the people at the nursing home; the Chinese boys on the farm and the underlying theme, Lev's home village will be underwater because the government is building a reservoir to bring much needed uninterrupted electricity to the area. Tremain produces a fantastic read.
heathereb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't decide whether to give this three or fourstars. For some reason I didn't enjoy it quite as much as some of her other books. Maybe I didn't relate to Lev as closely as I might. His story was poignant, and the sense of loss strong, but perhaps the storyline was a little predictable. Maybe I am being too harsh
SmithSJ01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a surprise as I really didn't enjoy reading one of Rose Tremain's other books, 'The Colour'. So it was with trepidation that I started this novel. It was good to see it bang up to date and quite topical in its subject matter. The novel centres around Lev, who has left his eastern European country to come to London in search of work. He finds it very difficult to get established due to language barriers and a sheer lack of knowledge about how to organise accommodation and work. The downside of this novel for me was how badly he was accepted by most people. This wouldn't have surprised me for some places in the UK but not in London where surely there is such a rich mixture of cultures. It was interesting to see Lev's journey unfold for the reader, at the same time as it was unfolding for Lev. Joining in his highs and lows, experiencing my own country from a stranger's perspective. I don't know why his country was put down so much in the novel, even though we were taken there a lot through telephone calls I felt I would've liked to have experienced it more. I can't imagine that the people who were involved in Lev's life would do this and I feel this was a slight mistake on the author's behalf. The characters were overall well-written, I could imagine most of them but I couldn't always imagine how Lev was feeling; especially in the early parts of the novel before he got himself sorted with a room to live in. The plot is very topical and bang up to date, which was (as mentioned) a refreshing change after reading a novel that I disliked so much. The downside of the novel was it's length and in some parts, lack of emotion. It became repetitive, the reader knew the struggles Lev was going through and some of them seemed to be agonisingly long, when they didn't need to be. I quite liked the ending, it brought a good close to the novel and although predictable from the early stages it still made me smile.
mairangiwoman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Possibly the best book I've read in 2008. Immigrant experience and likeable characters. Main character Lev, never gives up and achieves his dream of returning home with money to support his daughter. Sets up a stylish restaurant in what was once a backwater. Subtly drawn.5 stars
schmadeke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Road Home, which was released yesterday, August 26, has already been awarded the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Sometimes I read a book that has won a prestigious award and I come away wondering why it won, or I may understand why, but award or no, I just didn't like the book. Not so with The Road Home. It is completely deserving of the Orange Prize and I loved every page of it.Rose Tremain has given us a poignant, perfectly crafted novel. It is beautifully written. The plot ambles along at a relaxed and steady pace, but never once did I lose interest. I attribute this to two things. First, the compelling characters and Tremain's ability to draw the reader in, to make us emotionally invested in what happens to these rather ordinary people.Lev ... I really liked this guy. And by the book's end, I knew him so well. Lev's journey to London and the life he lived there made the immigrant experience so real. The competing cacophony of emotions: he was hopeful, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, sad, at one point blissfully in love. He felt he was betraying those he left behind just by being in London, even though he was there to make life better for them; if he enjoyed life in his temporary city, he felt guilty. I felt Lev's frustration with the language barrier. Reading about how he was treated as somehow inferior just because he dressed differently, had different mannerisms, struggled to understand and make himself understood made my heart break with sympathy.There were other characters who I grew to care about, and surprisingly most were men. I sometimes find it difficult to warm to adult male characters. But in this case, I quickly came to adore Rudi, Lev's brash and reckless, yet big-hearted old friend and Christy Slane, Lev's sweet, easygoing, down on his luck London flatmate. The second thing that stands out about this novel are the descriptions of the two central places: London and the unnamed Eastern European country Lev comes from. The richly textured images Tremain so masterfully creates stand alone, but are especially meaningful when viewed in contrast. Lev's home country, struggling to feel hopeful after the fall of communism seemed bleak, faded, gray, sadly downtrodden. London, a frenzied melting pot, at times glamorous and sophisticated, at others gritty and ordinary, but always colorful and alive. The characters and images in this highly readable, exquisitely written book will remain with me long after I turned the last page.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Rose Tremain¿s 2008 Orange Broadband-winning novel The Road Home we meet Lev, a Russian immigrant to London who¿s seeking work to support his mother and young daughter after losing his job at a lumber mill in the remote town of Auror. With Lev, Tremain has created one of those average, hard-working every-man characters who try very hard to do the right thing despite obstacles and road blocks that seem to pop up constantly. Lev is haunted by the memory of his beautiful and loving wife Marina, who died at age thirty-nine. As he tries to navigate the bewildering avenues of life in modern London he meets people who affect his life in many ways. Homely Lydia is the first to help Lev when they sit next to each other on the long bus ride to England. Hoping to work as a translator she helps Lev refine some useful basic phrases. Later she comes to his rescue when he can¿t find affordable lodging. Rudi, his eccentric best friend back in Auror had misinformed Lev, telling him he could survive on only twenty pounds a week! Bumbling Irishman Christy starts as a sympathetic landlord but grows to be a supportive friend even as he struggles with his own feelings of loss after a bitter divorce. Sexy Sophie at first leads Lev out of his nostalgic depression for Marina but then tries to drag him into the trendy and pseudo-sophisticated arty circle that appeals to her but seems shallow and frivolous to Lev who has experienced deprivation and loss that these bright young things cannot imagine. When he finally lands in the kitchen of the Ferndale Heights retirement home he finds a vision and a hope for the future that drives him to continue in the face of new hardships at home ¿ the town of Auror will soon be swallowed up by a dam project. Tremain does a wonderful job of slowly and carefully developing great depth of character through details and imagery that convey strong emotions and dramatic settings. The reader comes to care deeply about Lev and his friends and wants the best for them. The story beautifully and thoughtfully deals with displacement and the rearranging of ones dreams that may be necessary to achieve a true sense of connectedness and place.
TomKitten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Knowing that others were/are reading Orange Prize winners this month, I decided to look through the TBRs and see what I had that might qualify. And there it was, in one of the boxes under the bed, the Orange prize winner for 2008, purchased at a library sale last year, in pristine condition with a shiny dust jacket, just waiting for me to have at it. On such whims are great reading experiences built.For Lev, life in his small village in Eastern Europe has reached an end. Cancer has taken his wife and the love of his life, Marina, at the age of thirty-six. The sawmill where he worked has closed because there are no more trees in the area. In order to provide some future for his young daughter, Maya, he boards a bus for the UK with little more than a work visa and a beginner's grasp of English. On the bus he meets Lydia, also from his country, also traveling to the UK to take a job as a translator for a renowned conductor. Arriving in London, Lev soon realizes that the money he thought would keep him for weeks is barely enough for a few days.With Lydia's help he finds dishwashing work in an upscale restaurant run by a Gordon Ramsay-like chef. Lydia also helps him locate a room in a flat owned by an alcoholic Irish plumber named Christy, whose wife and child have recently left him. Lydia's willingness to help Lev is not completely selfless. She's desperately lonely and believes she's fallen in love with him. But Lev can't respond in kind, in fact, feels himself incapable of loving anyone other than the memory of Marina. That changes when he meets the red haired prep-cook, Sophie. Suddenly life feels good again, for Sophie, it seems, is attracted to him as well. He's promoted to chopping vegetables, is able to start sending money home to his mother and Christmas presents to Maya and he's starting to help Christy get back on his feet. And then in the space of a day that begins with an opening night at the Royal Court and ends with the loss of his job at the restaurant it all falls apart. He leaves London, takes a job picking asparagus and settles into the life of a migrant worker in Suffolk. And then one night he has a vision of The Great Idea, a vision that will take him back to London and lead him to The Road Home.I read Rose Tremain's Restoration years ago and enjoyed it immensely and now I see that I've really missed something by not keeping up with her. I don't know what else was nominated the year this won but it's hard for me to imagine a book more worthy of awards and honors. It is simply suberb, a rare combination of masterful storytelling and a big old beating heart that had me rooting like a cheerleader for Lev. I flat out loved it.
wandering_star on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the start of The Road Home, Lev has boarded a bus from his Eastern European village where the main employer has closed down. With the expansion of the EU, he is travelling to the UK ("I am legal" is one of the English phrases he has committed to memory) in order to earn money for his mother and his daughter (his wife has recently died of leukaemia). In London, he encounters much that is unfamiliar, but also begins to build friendships, particularly with Lydia, a compatriot he met on the bus, and his Irish landlord Christy, whose ex-wife is preventing him having access to their child.The touching relationship between these two lonely men, both missing their daughters but wishing to do the best by them, is one of the highlights of the book (at least, of the part I managed to read). There's also a nice thread about language and jargon - Lev has had English lessons before coming to the UK but is baffled by the language of job advertisements and room-for-rent notices, of self-improving business-speak, of the posh restaurant where he gets a job in the kitchen.But. This book was highly praised for giving humanity to the anonymous figure of the immigrant. Christy, too, could be another negative stereotype, the deadbeat dad (before his wife left him he was having trouble finding work, and drinking heavily). They are portrayed very sensitively. But for me, this was totally undermined by the fact that the book didn't bother giving humanity to the vast mass of the English working-class (who are all fat, drunken, incomprehensible and greasy-faced). There are several asides which sound to me much more like a middle-class Englishwoman's reaction to modern Britain than that of a working-class Eastern European man. Most of the speech of the British characters is really tin-eared - which grates even more in comparison to, say, the well-written conversations between Christy and Lev. And it seemed to me there was a lot of lazy stereotyping going on. You can see that from the fact that Christy's ex-wife is now shacked up with an estate agent - easily one of the top five most hated professions in Britain. Oh well, then, we just know we can hate him. Wouldn't it have been more subtle if we could have had sympathy for Christy's wife as well? If she had been someone who left him because she couldn't stand the fact that he kept coming home incoherent and throwing up on the hall carpet, but ended up with someone who loved her and was able to care for her and her child? I don't think that would necessarily have made Christy's character any less sympathetic. I know a lot of people have rated this book very highly, and I really, really, really did try. I kept picking it up for another go, but inevitably, after a really moving piece, I would come to something which made me roll my eyes and grind my teeth, and, y'know, that's not really what I look for in my reading. So, onto the 'abandoned' pile it goes.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Out of work and mourning the loss of his wife, Lev leaves his Eastern European homeland on a bus bound for London. Lev begins life in London homeless and nearly penniless. Lydia, a woman he met on the bus, uses her personal connections to help Lev secure inexpensive accommodation and employment in a restaurant. This is then a springboard for relationships both friendly and romantic, and he begins to develop expertise in food and the restaurant business. His journey is filled with hardship, ranging from typical "fish out of water" scenarios to more serious ethnic prejudice. Whenever trouble strikes, he turns to Lydia for support, but abuses this relationship by failing to realize how their paths have diverged during their time in England.Lev is also plagued by worry about those he left behind. He is in frequent phone contact with his friend Rudi, a carefree contrast to the conservative and somber Lev. Lev's relationship with his mother is primarily about money, which he sends home regularly to provide for her and his young daughter Maya. One day, Lev learns that his home village is threatened and he must develop a scheme to save his family and friends. The Road Home recounts Lev's struggles as an immigrant, and the inner journey of coming to terms with his past, dispensing with demons, and establishing a new direction for his life. I was instantly drawn into Lev's story. His loneliness and isolation were palpable. The important figures in his life, both at home and in England, were rich and believable. In some cases, it was a bit too obvious the purpose Tremain had in mind for each character; however, this did not diminish my enjoyment of this prizewinning novel.
joellalibrarything on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely book. It made me think hard about lots of things. I'm glad I read it in asparagus season.