Summary and book reviews of Strawberry Fields (Two Caravans) by Marina Lewycka

Strawberry Fields (Two Caravans)

A Novel

By Marina Lewycka

Strawberry Fields (Two Caravans)
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2007,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2008,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Lewycka's second book was first published in the UK as "Two Caravans"; and later in the USA and elsewhere as "Strawberry Fields".

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 immigrants 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.

two trailers

There is a field - a broad south-sloping field sitting astride a long hill that curves away into a secret leafy valley. It is sheltered by dense hedges of hawthorn and hazel threaded through with wild roses and evening-scented honeysuckle. In the mornings, a light breeze carries up over The Downs, just enough to kiss the air with the fresh salty tang of the English Channel. In fact so delightful is the air that, sitting up here, you might think you were in paradise. And in the field are two trailers, a men’s trailer and a women’s trailer.

If this were really the Garden of Eden, though, there ought to be an apple tree, thinks Yola. But it is the Garden of England, and the field is full of ripening strawberries. And instead of a snake, they have the Dumpling.

Sitting on the step of the women’s trailer, painting her toenails fuchsia pink, petite, voluptuous Yola watches the Dumpling’s Land Rover pull in through the gate at the ...

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Strawberry Fields is an impossible book to sum up - Lewycka plays with language and the miscommunication between cultures as she bounces her characters from slapstick to sitcom. They encounter gangsters and guns, strawberries and more strawberries, factory-farms and fishermen, eco-warriors living in trees and social activists, and even, briefly, Mr Mayevskyj (from A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian), along they way they are cheated and defeated; but those who emerge at the end do so a little wiser; as does the reader.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Cleveland Plain Dealer - Karen R. Long

Fans of Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan will like this book, but fans of A Short History are in for a letdown. The national stereotypes are broad, and, as Lewycka once again cuts abruptly among multiple points of view, the results are ragged. She risks our forbearance giving voice to a mongrel dog, whose thoughts, printed in all-capitalized text, are as welcome as a hairball.

The New York Times - Liesl Schillinger

Strawberry Fields needed longer to ripen. Its plot suggests Vera’s headlines, not Nadia's heartbeats, and the compassion the author undoubtedly feels for the literary-minded Ukrainian girl in the strawberry-stained jeans could have used more water, more sun and fewer stereotypes.

The New Yorker

Lewycka’s stylistic quirks can sometimes fall flat - a dog with Disney-like abilities to rescue characters gets a recurrent speaking role - but the jostle of voices creates an effervescent comedy, beneath which lies a more sombre look at the costs of globalization.

The Los Angeles Times - Louisa Thomas

Strawberry Fields is a comedy about a somber subject: the exploitation of migrant workers, who are drawn or driven to lands of opportunity by degrading and desperate conditions at home, only to become degraded and desperate themselves. But in Lewycka's picaresque version, comic nearly always beats tragic.

The Seattle Times - Robert Allen Papinchak

[S]tands along the best of Zadie Smith and Monica Ali. It is sometimes outrageous, sometimes bawdy and constantly entertaining.

Publishers Weekly

The plot moves slowly...Lewycka doesn't have a perfect command of all the cultures she aims to represent, making some of her satires broad and unfunny. There are, however, captivating scenes.

Kirkus Reviews

Strawberry-sweet, but not too syrupy.

Library Journal

It is finally the author's keen understanding of how a global consciousness and labor market have come together with a changing European economy that gives this book its gravity and strength.

The Observer - Francesca Segal

Black humour can be one of the most effective conduits for tragedy, but in this case, it simply feels as if desperately important issues are described with too much levity. Similarly, tremendous pathos can be found in an innocent voice describing horror; indeed, some of the darkest and most powerful stories are those seen through the naive and uncomprehending eyes of children. But these are not children and their naivety, particularly when dealing with pie-in-the-sky promises from manifestly suspicious characters, is unconvincing. The subject and the tone feel mismatched at times.

The Telegraph - Victoria Lane

There is no doubt that the elements that worked so well in A Short History .. are also here in abundance. It's just that there is too much other stuff - too many cheap sausages.

The Telegraph - Jane Shilling

The combination of charm and savagery make Two Caravans a piquant and disturbing read - the fictional equivalent of chocolate laced with chilli.

The New Statesman - Nadia Saint

Lewycka's real skill, however, is in portraying cultural misinterpretation – not only between countries, but also within them. ...The author's more serious points about immigration are pertinent, but never heavy-handed. No one likes a bargain more than a Ukrainian, and Two Caravans asserts the value of the free things in life, against our materialistic, "mobilfon"-dominated existence.

The Globe & Mail - Michelle Berry

Marina Lewycka's talent lies in portraying these characters with such depth that when they unintentionally mess up the English language, or when they stroll innocently into the next major disaster, you believe they are strong and capable, you believe they will eventually figure it out, pull themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on. As Andriy says at the end, "There's a special sadness at the end of a journey. For it's only when you get to your destination that you discover the road doesn't end here at all."

Reader Reviews
Marta Oriole

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-...   Read More

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Europe and the European Union

The dynamics between and the characters in Strawberry Fields stems from their perceived social class in their own country but also from the standing of their country in Europe, or more specifically, within the European Union.

Europe has changed beyond recognition in the past 30 years, as this series of maps illustrates: 1914, 1937, 1970, Current. Today, Europe consists of 48 countries (...

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