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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
Rose Tremain
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Award Year: 
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A-The Road HomeRose Tremain, winner of the Whitbread Award (Music and Silence, 1999) and short-listed for the Booker Prize (Restoration, 1989), won the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction with this tenth novel, a departure from her well-known historical fiction.

The Story: Torn by grief and despair after the death of his wife and the loss of his job, Lev leaves his young daughter and aging mother behind in Auror, an impoverished village in an unnamed Eastern European country, to seek work in the West. He passes through the streets of London, lonely and perpetually homesick. As he moves from one menial job to the next—as a flyer distributor, a dishwasher, a migrant farm worker—he joins the already teeming throng of immigrants who face poverty, homelessness, and bigotry on a daily basis. When tragedy looms in Auror, Lev makes the return journey home, only to find himself and his native land surprisingly changed.
Little, Brown. 432 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316002615

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Beautifully, sharply, Tremain deploys Lev as a double mirror, simultaneously reflecting his constantly astonished interior and the sometimes brutal contradictions of contemporary Britain, where globalization and late capitalism have brought a confusing mix of opportunity and despair. … How Lev learns to fold together his past and present selves, his past and present countries, is the deep adventure of The Road Home, which never falters in its detailed exploration of the sort of man who is most often represented by a statistic on global ‘problems.’" Stacey D’Erasmo

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Journeys like Lev’s are very much a part of Britain’s present reality, with discussion of the Eastern European invasion appearing all over. But Tremain elevates the subject beyond its outlines by making Lev not a statistic or a caricature or the standard-bearer of a trend but simply a man—fully embodied, his ignoble and noble acts presented without exaggeration, without excessive praise or condemnation." Liesl Schillinger

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Tremain’s 10th novel is a moving, utterly absorbing portrait of deracination, hope, loss, longing and fortitude. … Lev is at once a dreamer and a realist, a chain-smoking Odysseus with a fiery temper and a culinary Candide with a renewable sense of possibility." Heller McAlpin

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Road Home could have been a cheerless, dreary tale of isolation and loneliness. Instead, Tremain transforms this episodic road story into a gem of a novel, driven by a memorable character whose caring and ambition move him from a difficult personal situation and damaging historical past toward a positive new life." Robert Allen Papinchak

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Road Home’s final chapters wander into Hallmark Channel Movie of the Week territory, wrapping up plot points in a finish you may see coming from chapter three. But [this] aside, this British novel can remind any American reader of the loneliness and hope of the immigrant experience." Allecia Vermillion

Milwaukee Jrnl-Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Tremain leavens her sensitive and empathic portrayal of Lev’s grueling acculturation—finding a place to stay in prohibitively expensive London, washing dishes and later picking asparagus for meager wages, overcoming the seemingly insuperable language barrier—with some choice humor. … Disturbingly monochrome backdrops aside, however, Tremain paints vivid and multihued characters, including Lev’s alternately rambunctious and depressive pal Rudi back home, as well as his London landlord and friend Christy, an Irish immigrant tentatively exploring life after divorce." Rayyan Al-Shawaf

Philadelphia Inquirer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Road Home wound up overtaking my expectations for it based on the first slow, fuguelike chapters. Once you get to know Lev, you want to journey with him." Susan Balée

Critical Summary

Rose Tremain, "phenomenally adept at slipping into skins very different from her own" (Los Angeles Times), persuasively explores the contemporary immigrant experience through the eyes of a middle-aged, Eastern European man. Lev is not a caricature or a stereotype—none of Tremain’s characters are—but a wholly sympathetic and convincing character whose small hopes and disappointments are grounded in the everyday. Lev’s fundamental sense of otherness and his impressions of Western society and culture form a mirror through which readers can view themselves from a unique and compelling angle. Tremain’s compassion and subtle humor elevate what could have been a gloomy story, and despite a few minor complaints about a slow start and maudlin scenes, readers will cheer for Lev as he starts to realize that heroism exists in everyday survival.

Also by the Author

Music and Silence (1999): Award Star Whitbread Award. In this magical realist novel set in 17th-century Denmark, English lutenist Peter Claire finds himself an unwitting pawn in royal court intrigues when he joins King Christian IV’s personal orchestra.