In language serious, studied, courtly and old-fashioned RT takes us straight into the mind of our melancholy hero Lev - not Olev - cleverly written, carefully researched and up to the minute subject. Through a haze of cigarettes, the smoking of each one has to be respectfully described, swigs of his darling vodka lisch, all vital to him despite the poverty of his circumstances. Christy and Rudi also sharing his crutches of nicotine and alcohol until they learn that they live more happily without them..
Auror, Glic, Yarbyl, Baryn, Jor are all unrecognised as actual place names so Lev comes from an unknown to us Eastern European country, of grey trade and grey money, arriving by bus and ferry to London. Journeying with the tidy figure of Lydia beside him. Threading through the story the memory of Marina his lost loved wife, who was a strong mother, daughter in law, friend and colleague. Looking at London and Londoners through the eyes of a new comer with only his language structure to describe it. "Sucking on bottles like anxious babies"..
A clear and effective narrative - Rudi's voice is always in Lev's head, a powerful influence on him. Although later Lev overtakes Rudi and turns his life around for him. The homespun wisdom of Lev's family pushing through his thoughts. Homesickness constantly threatening to overwhelm him. Thoughts of Rudi and his Tschevi (almost a person) Lev's innocence, naivety and simplicity is appealing. Rudi's character is attractive and impressive. When he eventually becomes "The Face Of The Place' all seems right with the world.
Ina, the grim and difficult mother/grandmother/widow whose God is asleep never reacts quite as we'd hope and is like a belligerent donkey who will not be led. I felt she was an excellently drawn person, quite believable.
The themes of food and diet running through are interesting and touching. This chocolate `reminds me of sleep' says Ina grudgingly at the end in the restaurant at no. 43 Podorsky Street. Food horizons opening up with the experience of GKAshe, I remember the same when I worked in restaurant kitchens. Detailed descriptions of meals all so different, from hardboiled eggs, greasy grey goat meat kebabs onward all affected Lev and awoke his senses. Although I am amazed that Lev's taste buds actually worked after so much abuse from the tobacco and spirits. In fact Lev falls in love with food and cooking. Even in the uninspiring atmosphere of the nursing home kitchen. Food becomes his life even after the forty two years of not thinking about it. The kitchen suppers at GKAshe have a comforting reassuring feel, the crostini so delicious you can almost smell it.
As a poignant thoughtful touch RT includes characters from her other stories at least I recognised Ruby Constad from Letters to Sister Benedicta.
Truly felicitous meetings unfold through Lev's progress from his doomed home. His path is smoothed in a fairy tale way mostly by kind ladies and people who are pleased to repay the kindness of others to them. Lydia, Sulima at the first B+B, Ahmed the kebab man, hospitable Tom and Larissa (yoga aficionado). Christy Slane is far deeper and more of a character than he first appears and like all pantomime stories, his ends happily thankfully. Sophie, Sam the mad hatter, Vitas, the Ming's.
Throughout the tale we always understand what is being said to Lev but because of his limited English he only gets part of the conversations along the way especially with GKAshe (Gordon Ramsey) whose kitchen is run like an orchestra or an operating theatre. Christy talking away, his ex wife,snapping, Sophie the lover. It all gives the reader another view of our own language.
Through all of Lev's vast range of experiences you feel you are going through them al with him, they are so warmly and inclusively written. When he mucks things up in his only human way you cringe along with him and admire him for rising again to the next challenges.
So much of the story shows us how other people's voices, opinions and advice constantly ring in our heads - if we choose to let them. Also that the kindness of strangers really can turn your life around. Lovely stuff!
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