Top critical review
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What a comedy!
on 7 April 2009
The book is hilarious. I have recommended it to all my school friends - those who didn't skip English lessons that is.
Tremain used every stereotype about Eastern Europe that she could think of (we call it Mid Europe by the way), tied them together and apparently feeling a little bit guilty about what she had done - threw in a few obese English celebrities and an Irish drunkard (of course) brought up in a dysfunctional family (where else?) for good measure. How embarrassing. I have no doubt that Tremain had good intentions, but she didn't make a good use of them. Apart from the fact that she clearly doesn't know much about her subject (she could at least have done some research in the internet) and the book is full of stupid mistakes, it's also boring, unrealistic, and has little sense of humor.
I understand what she was trying to do in not defining Lev's country. I like her carefully made up names, desperately international. But she tried to avoid being specific in such a clumsy way that the result is pathetic and confusing. Surely there is only one country in the A8 from which you have to travel through Austria to get to Britain???
Lev (who is 42 years old) sends kisses home XXXX - he is a quick learner indeed to catch immediately not only spoken English, but also English symbols- and money (in an envelope, apparently there are no banks there) to his mother living surrounded by goats in a village where electricity arrived only recently, causing cancer in the villages! Or perhaps it's the lack of red meat and proper food. Fish and chip shops probably haven't been introduced yet in the village. That's why the villages are not too fat, but rather slim; they like eating dumplings and wash them down with vodka from morning to evening. Their women don't have nice clothes and put papers on their head when it rains (I suppose they can't afford umbrellas). Surprisingly they do have school - and (even bigger surprise) they start education at the age of 5, at the age of 16 they can go to the university (Vitas' plan). It doesn't sound like an Eastern-European education system to me. But it's strangely similar to the British one. Moreover they have an hour lunch break like British children, during which they eat their pickles and play with goats. There are no modern cash registers, but there are skeletons of ex-communists with Kalashnikov pistols (obviously!). There are lots of items from Russia, but nobody reads "Hamlet". I suppose it's banned... Like Christmas was until not long ago!!!!!
Lev is going to introduce lovely British food (!) to his country, where "they have eaten communist food for 60 years," and "all anybody's eaten in the last century is goat meat and pickles (occasionally wild boar). Fortunately you can buy staples there now, but their people don't care about good food, because they haven't had a chance to try any. Does Tremain know what the world's opinion is on the British food?
And when you think that it can't get any better you find the best joke of all: "art needs to catch up in his country" and everybody (even teenagers) call each other: "comrade"!!! Doesn't she know that communism was practically over 30 years ago? Lev is still 42.
What a comedy! But I'm not surprised Tremain got away with it and was published (In my country you would be sent to Siberia for writing such rubbish). This and the book itself confirm the stereotype of British ignorance.
I could write more, but I need to go now and have some vodka, I haven't had any all day.
I'm considering writing a book though - before I visited Britain I wanted to write about a lovely girl spending her lunch breaks playing among the sheep (because you do have a lot of sheep in the country, I knew that much), but now I think that it would be better to write about a teenage mother, who spends her time eating hamburgers, bullying foreigners and getting pissed in pubs every night.