Marina Lewycka's second novel Strawberry Fields is a darkly comic trip through rural England told by migrant workers on a strawberry farm. Lewycka, who immigrated to England as a child, has previously written about immigrants in Britain in her Booker-nominated A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), which told the story of two quarreling sisters who interfere in their father's budding romance with a vivacious, money-hungry Ukrainian Å½migrÅ½. In Strawberry Fields, the author broadens both the range and technique of her storytelling gifts.
Strawberry Fields opens on a farm whose migrant crew bridges three continents and two species. The novel continuously changes perspectives, giving each character including the farm dog an opportunity to tell their part of the story. The focus of the novel gradually shifts to two young Ukrainians: Andriy, from a rural mining family and Irina, fresh off the Dover boat. Despite their opposing politics and their initially petty quarrels, the two share the bittersweet dream that England will provide better opportunities than their homeland. As their romantic notions of the West drop away, their relationship blossoms into love.
Strawberry Fields deftly portrays both the kindnesses of the workers to one another and the harsh realities of migrant life, including the almost childlike dependency of the workers on the middlemen who exploit them. These self-made entrepreneurs with their Rolexes and mobilfons make their living by trafficking in human lives and preying on the youth, illegality and innocence of their na•ve employees.
As the band of workers breaks up, Irina and Andriy stay on the move, from strawberry fields to chicken processing plant, nursing home to restaurant kitchen. Still, the couple never loses their humor or grace. With immigration taking a primary place in the daily news, it's important to have a novel like this, putting a face on the faceless with heart and humor.
Lauren Bufferd writes from Nashville.