The Road Home
Rose Tremain is known for her sympathetic treatment of ordinary people experiencing isolation, loneliness, and loss. The lutenist in Music and Silence (2000) yearns hopelessly for the woman he loves; the courtier in Restoration (1989) feels that he cannot survive the loss of his place at court; and the immigrants in The Colour (2003) find themselves alone and adrift in their new country. In The Road Home, Tremain tells the story of a man who enters a world of strangers in order to provide for those he loves.
The novel begins on a bus from Eastern Europe to London. Lev begins talking to Lydia, a woman from his country who happens to be sitting next to him. Lev’s home is in the little village of Auror, he explains, but he had been working at a sawmill in the nearby town of Baryn. When the sawmill closed, he could not find another job. Therefore, he decided to go to London, where he was certain that he could earn enough to support his family, which, since his wife Marina had died recently, now consists only of Ina, his mother, and Maya, his five-year-old daughter. After the bus arrives in London, Lydia and Lev part company, but she has given him her telephone number in case he finds that he needs help. It is not long before Lev realizes that the money he has brought with him will not last long. The one job he findsdelivering leaflets for a friendly Arabpays so little that he cannot afford to rent a room. Dragging his bag of belongings, he sleeps in doorways, hoping that no one will tell him to move on. Cold, filthy, and dizzy from hunger, Lev decides to call Lydia. Though she is staying with friends, she arranges for them to take him in, and from that time on, his life changes for the better.
With Lydia’s help, Lev finds a place to live, a room in the apartment of Christy Slane, an Irish plumber. Lev also gets a job as a kitchen porter in an upscale restaurant. His industry so impresses G. K. Ashe, the temperamental chef and owner, that he promotes Lev to vegetable preparation. Lev seizes this opportunity to learn all that he can about cooking and restaurant management. Meanwhile, he embarks on a passionate affair with Sophie, another restaurant worker. Through her, he meets the elderly residents of Ferndale Heights, where Sophie volunteers on Sundays. One of the more difficult residents, Ruby Constad, becomes especially fond of Lev. Unfortunately, as soon as G. K. finds out about Lev’s affair with Sophie, he fires Lev, explaining that he does not approve of romantic involvements in the workplace. Lev’s next job is as an asparagus picker in Suffolk. It is there that he has an epiphany: He will save his money, return to Baryn, and open up a restaurant. Back in London, he starts working two jobs, cooking both at Ferndale and at a Greek restaurant. A generous gift from Mrs. Constad helps Lev to attain his financial goal, and at the end of the novel, he is back in Baryn as the proprietor of a successful restaurant.
Though almost all these events take place in England, and primarily in London, The Road Home gives the impression of having not just one setting but two. In his dreams and in his reveries, Lev re-creates his courtship and his happy life with Marina, and in his nightmares, he watches helplessly as those he loves face some peril from which he cannot save them. In his wanderings around London, he is always looking for something he can buy to send to his daughter Maya, for though it saddens him to hear how much she misses him, he also worries that she will forget him. Even though the money he sends home constitutes his mother’s primary means of support, Ina is too negative by nature or perhaps just too defeated by life to appreciate the sacrifices Lev is making or to encourage him in his efforts. Instead, whenever he telephones her, she voices her complaints about whatever gift he has sent her, tells him how miserable Maya is without him, and, evidently incapable of understanding that he went to England in order to support her and his daughter, insists on his coming home....
(The entire section is 1659 words.)