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  • ISBN-13: 9781594201370
  • ISBN-10: 1594201374

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 33.
  • Review Date: 2007-05-28
  • Reviewer: Staff

U.K.-based Lewycka, a Booker and Orange Prize nominee for 2005’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, follows up with a Chaucer-inspired tale of migrant workers trapped at global capital’s thuggish bottom. After being “helped” into England by men like Vulk, an armed, lecherous creep of indeterminate former east bloc origins, a disparate group of strawberry pickers begins a pilgrimage-like search for labor across the countryside after their philandering boss is run over and crippled by his wife. Among them are two Ukrainians: Irina, a naïve teenager from Kiev, and Andriy, a former coal miner. After a brief stop in Canterbury, the workers—from Malawi, China, Malaysia and elsewhere—arrive in Dover with their loyal dog. There, they unexpectedly meet shady “recruitment consultant” Vitaly, who promises jobs in “the dynamic resurgence of the poultry industry.” The plot moves slowly, and things get worse for the group. Lewycka doesn’t have a perfect command of all the cultures she aims to represent, making some of her satires broad and unfunny. There are, however, captivating scenes (some not for the squeamish), and many of the characters are complex and multifaceted, Irina and Andriy in particular. As a send up of capitalism’s grip on the global everyman, Lewycka’s ensemble novel complements Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan. (Aug.)

BookPage Reviews

Putting a face on immigration

Marina Lewycka's second novel Strawberry Fields is a darkly comic trip through rural England told by migrant workers on a strawberry farm. Lewycka, who immigrated to England as a child, has previously written about immigrants in Britain in her Booker-nominated A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), which told the story of two quarreling sisters who interfere in their father's budding romance with a vivacious, money-hungry Ukrainian émigré. In Strawberry Fields, the author broadens both the range and technique of her storytelling gifts.

Strawberry Fields opens on a farm whose migrant crew bridges three continents and two species. The novel continuously changes perspectives, giving each character—including the farm dog—an opportunity to tell their part of the story. The focus of the novel gradually shifts to two young Ukrainians: Andriy, from a rural mining family and Irina, fresh off the Dover boat. Despite their opposing politics and their initially petty quarrels, the two share the bittersweet dream that England will provide better opportunities than their homeland. As their romantic notions of the West drop away, their relationship blossoms into love.

Strawberry Fields deftly portrays both the kindnesses of the workers to one another and the harsh realities of migrant life, including the almost childlike dependency of the workers on the middlemen who exploit them. These self-made entrepreneurs with their Rolexes and mobilfons make their living by trafficking in human lives and preying on the youth, illegality and innocence of their naïve employees.

As the band of workers breaks up, Irina and Andriy stay on the move, from strawberry fields to chicken processing plant, nursing home to restaurant kitchen. Still, the couple never loses their humor or grace. With immigration taking a primary place in the daily news, it's important to have a novel like this, putting a face on the faceless with heart and humor.

Lauren Bufferd writes from Nashville.

BAM Customer Reviews