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September 27, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Two Caravans

Two caravans

Two Caravans, several cultures, endless strawberries and a winningly perceptive insight into the life of an immigrant in England. Marina Lewycka’s novel follows a group of strawberry pickers who find themselves shacked up together, in a Strawberry field, in Kent, desperately trying to earn their way to a better life.  All is ticking along fairly normally, for the group, when beautiful, elusive Irina arrives in their midst. Chaos ensues as she finds herself the unwilling object of gangster, Vulk’s, affections and in need of a ‘Mr Brown’ to come and rescue her.

To say that a novel about exploitation, prostitution, animal cruelty and kidnap is very funny probably sounds like too much of a contradiction to work, but somehow Lewycka manages to pull it off without ever taking away from the point she is making about the harsh realities of life for an immigrant. Scenes of stomach-turning horror and betrayal seamlessly intermingled with scenes of touching loyalty, frivolity and, at times, situations that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a carry-on movie, put Lewycka, for me, in the category of great authors.

Two Caravans is written from several different perspectives, including that of an extremely loyal dog who attaches himself to the group and insists on being their knight in shining armour. Dog’s short, abrupt interior monologues break up the text and change the pace of the novel, moving it along quicker. I found this interesting, although I wasn’t sure about it at the very start of the novel as I felt that it distracted me a bit from the plot. However, as Dog’s thoughts started to tell a bit more of the story I came to enjoy his little interjections, I mean who doesn’t like a talking dog? 😉

Lewycka really shows her diversity and complexity, as a writer, as she both celebrates and challenges various cultural stereotypes through her characters and the way they see the world. Her portrayal of her two young Ukrainian characters Andrily and Irina, and how they interact, is particularly engaging.  Harking from very different parts of Ukraine, with opposite views about the political situation, in their own country, neither seems willing to submit to the other but both feel drawn together.

The small details of Marina’s characters’ lives are not lost in her overall plot and this attention to detail, along with her shrewd observations of human quirks and faults, make her characters feel real and raw, which serves to draw the reader deeper in to their lives and stories. You know you really care for a character, and have started to invest in them, when you forget that you are reading and find yourself thinking about how you will put up with their foot odor problem and what treatments they could try!

Lewycka writes, with humour and honesty, about the clash of personalities and beliefs and the bonds that form, as her protagonists battle with mistreatment, a bumpy road trip and their increasing desperation to prove that England really is the place of their dreams. This book had me crying, laughing, feeling sickened and briefly turning vegetarian.

There is one thing though that I am not sure I can ever forgive Marina Lewycka for, but you will just have to read this book to find out what that is.

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3 Comments

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  1. calmgrove / Sep 30 2013 8:15 am

    This is not a book that I would normally pick up and read but your review has me thinking I might give it a go! Thanks.

    • ljbradburn / Oct 3 2013 1:31 pm

      Thank you 🙂 You won’t regret it I promise! Let me know what you think. I’m going to read another of her books soon called ‘ We Are All Made of Glue’ and i’m really looking forward to it x

      • calmgrove / Oct 3 2013 1:39 pm

        You won’t believe how many books I’ve got waiting (and now my son and daughter-in-law have got me a Kindle, how many free classics as well!), but I’m always looking for a change of pace and subject matter.

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