At any time there are millions of people on the move all over the world: the wealthy flit about in private jets scarcely noticing the difference between one city and another; there are tourists like me who save their disposable income for longed-for holidays; there are business travellers who’d rather be home; there are refugees fleeing misery and mayhem; and – forming the backbone of many modern economies – there are the so-called economic migrants, who set out from home in search of a better life.
These economic migrants are often scorned by the countries that host them. They do the poorly paid grotty jobs that the locals don’t want to do because they are desperate. From their meagre earnings they send money home, and they work long hours sustained only by letters and phone calls from family back home and by the hope that one day things will be better.
Often they are exploited, and often by their own countrymen. Marina Lewycka wrote about this with gentle irony in Two Caravans; Kirai Desai with more bitterness in The Inheritance of Loss. But in The Road Home Rose Tremain has woven a deeply satisfying story of hope and dreams that will make her readers see these workers in a different light forever.
Lev comes from one of those sad ex-communist republics where there is no work and no hope of a better future. His beloved wife Marina has died, and he has left his little daughter Maya at home in the care of his sour old mother. In Britain to find work and make money his loneliness is assuaged by phone calls to the indefatigable Rudi, by the support he gets from Lydia whom he met on the long bus journey from his home town, and by the friendship he has with Christy, an alcoholic no-hoper who rents him a room.
Things go well for a while, and then they do not, and there came a point in this book where I did not want to read on. I had become very fond of Lev, and his travails were heart-breaking. To say more would be to spoil the ending, so I shall confine myself to saying that this book has the ring of authenticity and that I’m not at all surprised that it won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008.
Rose Tremain is a very fine writer. I enjoyed Restoration (1989), Music and Silence (1999) and The Colour (2003) and there will always be a place on my bookshelves for her latest book!
Author: Rose Tremain
Title: The Road Home
Publisher: Vintage, 2008
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings in Hawthorn, $24.95