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Strawberry Fields Forever
It is a rare comic novel, with laughs on every page, that can encompass so many tragedies and be deeply moving at the same time. Lewycka has brilliantly captured the east-west divide in Ukraine, symbolized by the coal-mining east and the Western-looking Orange Revolution. I almost cried when I read Andriy's words: "Irina, we are two halves of one country. We must learn to love each other." Armies of political scientists and historians have not managed to say it better than Lewycka.
It is to Lewycka's credit that she has shed much-needed light on the exploitation of migrant labourers from the former east bloc and post-Soviet republics, and the dreadful plague of sex trafficking.
Going against general opinion, I must say that the parts of the book narrated by the dog, which run like a coda throughout the novel, add more humour and depth to this multi-layered book. This literary device of "estrangement," brilliantly executed in Lewycka's novel, is a feature of many Eastern European works.
The character of the charming and naive Emanuel from Malawi, who writes unintentionally uproariously funny letters to his long-lost sister, is just one of the many well-developed characters portrayed in this novel, which is grounded in the belief in the brotherhood of man and the primacy of love.
There are a few jarring inconsistencies: some Ukrainian place names and personal names are given in their Russian forms instead of Ukrainian, e.g. the horrible Gorlovka, which should have been rendered as Horlivka.
All in all, Strawberry Fields is a terrific read, and if I were a rich woman I would buy dozens of copies as gifts for my friends and colleagues.