Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

The Road Home starts with a bus journey. Depressed by his wife's death and his sawmill job disappearing, Lev is leaving his Eastern European home, immigrating to England to try to restart his life. The book follows Lev for the year he spends in England, and his rebirth and resurgerance of purpose by the time he returns home. Lev starts as a leaflet deliveryman. From there he becomes the dishwasher in an up-and-coming restaurant, and when that goes well, the prep chef. After leaving that job, Lev works as a farmworker for a season, picking asparagus and other crops. He has come to love food, however, and goes back to London and becomes a waiter. As he moves from job to job, he begins to see a plan for the rest of his life, and he returns to his home in Eastern Europe, determined to live his dream.

Along Lev's journey, the reader meets many individuals. There is Rudi, Lev's best friend at home. Rudi is a larger than life figure, always dreaming and scheming and forcing life to bend to his will. Lev has a five year old daughter, Maya, whom he leaves with his mother, Ina. In London, Lev rents a room from an Irishman, Christy Slane, who becomes a fast friend. He helps Lev adjust to England, and in turn, Lev helps Christy get his life back together. Sophie is Lev's English love, and the book follows their love affair. There are Jimmy and Sonny Ming, Chinese immigrants who work with Lev in the fields. G.K. Ashe is the restauranteur who gives Lev his first chance and demands excellence from him. There is also Lydia. Lev meets Lydia on the bus, and although she is also an immigrant, she seems more in tune with various processes, and whenever Lev encounters difficulties, Lydia is the one he turns to for help.

The Road Home won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008. Rose Tremain has written several other novels that were acclaimed, such as Music And Silence, The Colour, and Restoration. One of her strengths as an author is character development. She writes characters that are instantly believable, and that the reader cares about. Even minor characters are fully developed, written in such depth that the reader feels they would recognize the characters if they passed on the street. There is also an underlying beat of hope in her novels that draws in the reader and makes her books compelling reads.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I cared about Lev, rejoiced in his triumphs and grieved at his setbacks. The resilience he showed after tragedy made him a sympathetic figure. His kindness and refusal to let life beat him down makes him a memorable character. This book is highly recommended.

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