By Marina Lewycka
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594201370, 304pp.)
Publication Date: August 16, 2007
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From the author of the international bestseller A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian comes a tender and hilarious novel about a crew of migrant workers from three continents who are forced to flee their English strawberry field for a journey across all of England in pursuit of their various dreams of a better future.
Somewhere in the heart of the green and pleasant land called England is a valley filled with strawberries. A group of migrant workers, who hail from Eastern Europe, China, and Africa have come here to harvest them for delivery to British supermarkets, and end up living in two small trailer homes, a men's trailer and a woman's trailer. They are all seeking a better life (and in their different ways they are also, of course, looking for love) and they've come to England, some legally, some illegally, to find it. They are supervised-some would say exploited-by Farmer Leaping, a red-faced Englishman who treats everyone equally except for the Polish woman named Yola, the boss of the crew, who favors him with her charms in exchange for something a little extra on the side. But the two are discreet, and all is harmonious in this cozy vale-until the evening when Farmer Leaping's wife comes upon him and Yola and does what any woman would do in this situation: She runs him down in her red sports car. By the time the police arrive the migrant workers have piled into one of the trailer homes and hightailed it out of their little arcadia, thus setting off one of the most enchanting, merry, and moving picaresque journeys across the length and breadth of England since Chaucer's pilgrims set off to Canterbury.
Along the way, the workers' fantasies about England keep rudely bumping into the ignominious, brutal, and sometimes dangerous realities of life on the margins for ZmigrZs in the new globalized labor market. Some of them meet terrible ends, some give up and go back home, but for those who manage to hang in for the full course of this madcap ride, the rewards-like the strawberries-prove awfully sweet-especially for the young Ukrainians from opposite sides of the tracks, Andriy and Irina, whose initial mutual irritation blossoms into love.