- Mark Edmundson
- 16 August 2007
This article is from 2007.
Making transport-based literature accessible and fun
Marina Lewycka’s debut A History of Tractors in Ukrainian won over hearts and minds with a witty and largely autobiographical tale of a long settled immigrant family clashing over the encroaching senility of its obsessive and stubbornly romantic head. Two Caravans shifted the focus to the trials and tribulations of young immigrants to the UK in today’s climate. ‘It was completely extraordinary really,’ says Lewycka of the critical and public embrace of her debut. ‘I didn’t particularly have any expectation that it was even going to be published.’
Its successor, an equally honest and humorous if more energetic caper, has met a more divided reception. ‘The real temptation was to follow Tractors up with something similar but I think in Two Caravans I was trying to see what else I could do really,’ she explains. ‘People haven’t always liked them both because they are so very different. In a way I guess the caravans book is a bit more sophisticated whereas the tractors book is a bit more from the heart, and I think they have perhaps gone to slightly different readerships.’ The jump-off for this timely second novel was a booklet on contemporary work experiences of Ukrainians in the UK that struck a chord with an author brought to Britain after being born in a refugee camp in wartime Germany.
‘My own immigrant experience was so very different to that in the book; everybody was incredibly nice to us where now people talk of being swamped by immigrants. That’s what started me off; thinking that if my parents hadn’t come when they did, then this could be my life. What would that be like?’ Marina Lewycka is now working on her third novel, an obliquely Israeli-Palestinian comedy set in London, featuring, ‘categorically no vehicles and no Ukrainians.’ (Mark Edmundson)
17 Aug (with Lucy Ellmann), 2.30pm, £7 (£5).