The Road Home Hardcover – Aug 1 2007
|New from||Used from|
|Hardcover, Aug 1 2007||
Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
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. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
“One of the finest writers in English.”
“Tremain is a magnificent story-teller.”
–Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Browse and search another edition of this book.
What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
Top Customer Reviews
I give this one four stars only because the ending was rather vague, almost as if setting itself up for a continuation. It left me wondering what happened, but I guess a story has to end somewhere.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
When the sawmill where Lev worked closes down ("They ran out of trees"), he leaves Auror, his (fictional) village somewhere in Eastern Europe, entrusting his young daughter to his mother's care (his wife has died, tragically young). In London, some people are kind to him; others, casually cruel: "This is how these people see me," Lev thinks at one point, "as a turnip with no intelligence and no voice." He never comes off as a victim, though. He finds a rented room and a job washing dishes in a chic restaurant, and ultimately discovers a passion and talent for cooking that he parlays into a dream for the future --- and a pathway back to his homeland.
Lev is almost old-fashioned in his sensibility (and even in his vices, cigarettes and vodka). In teeming, driven modern London, he is allergic to the brittle, pseudo-creative denizens of the culture of cool. But he seems to have an instinct for connecting with those who appreciate his discipline and understand his lingering sadness (it's no accident that he improves his English by struggling through HAMLET; it's as if the ghosts of Auror have followed him to Britain).
Probably my favorite moments in the book are set in the restaurant. Rose Tremain evokes the controlled chaos, pinpoint timing and near-military precision of a professional kitchen --- it's run like a small autocratic state --- in several brilliantly cinematic scenes. What's exciting is to watch the evolution of Lev's taste: his first encounters with refined cuisine (Auror is not known for four-star bistros), his experiments with cooking, and finally his fantasy of a restaurant of his own. There is an affection for food here --- what it is, what it does, where it comes from --- that makes THE ROAD HOME a nourishing novel as well as a moving one.
I was enthralled, too, by Tremain's dense, Dickens-sized cast of fully realized supporting characters. To name a few: Rudi, Lev's volatile friend back home, a taxi driver whose temperamental secondhand "Tchevi" is a symbol of the U.S. as another "promised land." Lydia, Lev's accidental companion on the bus to London, who develops a crush on him and is often his reluctant savior. His landlord, Christy, a good-hearted, alcoholic Irishman whose wife has left, taking their daughter. The staff of the restaurant, most significantly Lev's lover, Sophie ("Hardly anybody is good," she tells him. "But you are"). The Indian woman Christy courts. The elderly residents of the nursing home Sophie and Lev visit on Sundays. The Suffolk farmer, Midge, "lonely lord of his fruit and vegetable kingdom," who hires Lev as a picker.
Tremain's complex, imaginative people are certainly part of her literary gift, but she also gives them splendidly authentic landscapes to inhabit and big questions to grapple with. I've read five of her eleven novels, and what's astonishing is her range. She writes wonderful historical fiction that is both intimate and panoramic: RESTORATION and MUSIC & SILENCE are set in the 17th century; THE COLOUR is a tale of the 19th-century gold rush in New Zealand; the provocative SACRED COUNTRY, with its transsexual themes, ventures into bold new territory; and THE WAY I FOUND HER is a sophisticated coming-of-age story set in Paris.
THE ROAD HOME, though modern in subject and style, has something of the 19th-century novel about it (that's a compliment). It's meaty, ungimmicky and transporting. Its picaresque plot unfolds without strain as Lev shapes his expatriate existence and mourns his wife and former life. Perhaps the ending is a bit neat. As the title suggests, Lev does in a sense come full circle. But is that a bad thing? (Ambiguous or downbeat endings, I think, are overrated.) Would it have been better for Lev to die --- like his wife, like Hamlet --- or remain a lonely exile? I don't think so.
Although THE ROAD HOME is set in Great Britain, its lessons certainly apply to our own country. A nation of immigrants, it is also a place where someone of a different culture may be treated with loathing and suspicion, as an alien "type" rather than a person. Without being in the least preachy, Tremain shows us ourselves --- the good, the bad and the unforgivably ignorant --- through Lev's eyes. Reading her book has already made me more generous and less suspicious as I ride New York City's multi-ethnic subways. Squeezed into a crowded rush-hour car, I remind myself that the exotically dressed stranger beside me undoubtedly has, like Lev, a human story that should invite not fear but compassion.
--- Reviewed by Kathy Weissman
Rose Tremain makes us care about Lev and acutely communicates his loneliness and isolation. Occasionally he does things that we don't like, but he still maintains our sympathy and interest throughout the book. In fact, all of the characters are perfectly realized and feel incredibly real. The first two thirds of "The Road Home" are beautifully written: this is one of those books that you carry around with you so that you can read a bit more whenever you get a chance. It made me think about (and care about) the experiences of immigrants in a new way.
My one criticism of the book is the ending, which worked on one level but felt too contrived and too neat on another. It was also telegraphed well in advance, so that when it did eventually wrap up it felt almost like an anti-climax rather than a culmination of all that had gone before. I loved this book very much, but the final third did not grab me as much as what had gone before. Nevertheless, one of my favorite books this year.
But he also finds a few unexpected acts of kindness, like the Moslem cafe owner who gives him a temporary job and a free meal. Our hero, Lev, turns out to be a resilient person with a lot of determination and a sense of humor -- humor that (once he gets a cell phone) he shares with a friend back home, a crazy optimist who sees him through some bad times. Before long, the book that I was reluctant to read had become the book I could hardly put down. There have been numerous accounts of new immigrants to Britain, notably Zadie Smith's WHITE TEETH and Monica Ali's BRICK LANE, but this is unusual in being seen from an Eastern European perspective. It is also unusual in that Lev never intends to stay in England. Even though he makes some very good friends in London (including a passionate lover), part of his thoughts remain with his family. The book thus becomes a sensitive study in love and loneliness, as the road home leads through some strange detours.
My one problem with the book is a certain inconsistency of tone. Tremain's realism tends to be grittier than life and her upbeats correspondingly more glowing; in this, she is a little like Dickens, a fabulist, a romantic at heart. Lev has some reversals, especially painful when they are his own stupid fault. But on the whole he is lucky, finding jobs in various aspects of the food business and employers perceptive enough to see his strengths. His discovery of good food is a revelation after a life of communist rations. As his skills increase, he takes pride in his new metier and uses it to share his joy with other people. Among these are the residents of a retirement home whose menus (written by his teenage assistant) he enlivens with dishes such as "Chef's fantastic fish gratin with zero bones and non-crap crumb." Despite its familiarity with the underside of London life, THE ROAD HOME eventually plays out as a kind of fable, with Lev as an unlikely Cinderella, whose good fortune comes to him by hard work and the slow emergence of qualities that were in him all the time. [4.5 stars]
Before I get into what I disliked, the good things about this book: it's decently well-written, it has some intriguing and funny moments, and the character development is at least competent--I did believe in these people.
My biggest problem with The Road Home is its bloat; at well over 400 pages, it's much longer than such a simple story requires. Relatedly, after Lev's early experiences in England it quickly became boring to me: he finds a job in a fancy restaurant and rents a room from a friendly Irishman and the novel turns into an overlong, dull story of modern working-class life, not even dealing with immigration as much as I'd expected. If a book about a guy having an affair with a much younger woman, listening to his housemate's divorce and child-custody woes, and discovering his love of cooking appeals to you, you'll probably like it better than I did.
Compounding this problem is Lev himself. He's believable enough, but like Joseph Blackstone in The Colour, he's rather dull and a bit of a loser (he even has a nearly identical relationship with his widowed mother). Unlike Joseph, he isn't balanced by another, more likeable protagonist; instead we spend the entire book in the guy's head. We're evidently supposed to admire him for working hard to support his family, but we're only briefly told about that, and shown a lot of scenes in which he displays the emotional maturity and problem-solving ability of your average 18-year-old boy--and Lev is 42. Then on top of being boring, he becomes violent toward his girlfriend, more than once. At this point I didn't even want him to succeed, which was clearly not the author's intent.
This one is going to come down to taste; the writing itself is fine and if you like modern-relationships type stories and aren't put off by Lev, you'll probably like it better than I did. But it was a waste for me.
This is the story of Lev, a widower who immigrates to England from an unnamed Eastern European country. Tremain's graceful prose, richly described setting details, absorbing story, and fully developed characters take me away from my privileged and prosaic little world into Lev's world, a world once veiled by the Iron Curtain, with unpronounceable names that have too many consonants. A world where the "gray" market flourishes as West meets East through streetwise entrepreneurs. A world where fish sometimes glow in the dark and young women too often die of leukemia, where the electricity may or may not work, where a refurbished bicycle is a primary means of transportation, where sawmills routinely "run out of trees". A world used to deprivation.
From the ten hour bus ride to London to the short "road home" at the end, I was captivated by Lev, an endearing, lovable, honorable, flawed, quintessentially human man. I was equally captivated by the London he occupies and the company he keeps there. We have the pretentiously named G.K. Ashe, known as "Chef", owner/proprietor of a five-star restaurant; Lydia, Lev's seat mate on the long bus ride, a warm and generous woman with "moles like splashes of mud on her face"; Sophie, whose plump arms (and rough sex) catch and keep Lev's attention, after five years of celibacy following his wife's death from cancer at age 36; Christy, Lev's Irish and alcoholic landlord-cum-friend, whose ex-wife seems to have Amazonian qualities. And Rudi, Lev's link to home--Lev finds solace and respite in memories of a lifetime with this cheerful, resilient childhood friend. Rudi's vibrant personality fills the crevices of Lev's homesickness, providing much-needed laughter through both memories and infrequent phone conversations. Rudi's "Tchevi", an ancient Chevrolet Phoenix (a car I neither remember nor could track down), provides local taxi service back home; Rudi keeps the car running through sheer grit. The car itself is a minor character, a vehicle (pardon the pun) through which we see the routine shortages of Lev's home country--and the routine resourcefulness of its people.
This is a socially conscious novel, to be sure. We can't miss the poverty and despair that force Lev to immigrate, but we are drawn into the universal themes of life, his and ours--love, loss, grief, injustice. We identify with Lev even as we are fascinated by his "other-ness."
Tremain's award-winning novel uses old-fashioned pacing, characterization, and narrative panache to stretch our sound-byte-jaded attention spans, wooing us into "something wild and beautiful and full of woe."