The Road Home, by Rose Tremain.
He tugged out the photograph, tugged with trembling hands, and set it down on the bar top. And he looked at it and saw that it had faded. All the once-bright colors were vanishing, leaving only a trace of themselves, tinged with green, with the bluish green of the sky ... when evening was coming ... the sky behind Auror ... - from The Road Home, page 237 -
Lev is 43 years old and forced to leave his rural East European town to seek work in London. He has been widowed (his young wife Marina having died from leukemia) and must support his daughter Maya and his elderly mother who remain behind in Russia. Lev barely speaks English and is at first bewildered by London. But Lydia, a woman he meets on the train, helps him find a job working in a posh restaurant where he meets the sexy Sophie. Lev eventually finds lodging with an Irishman named Christy Slane who is also experiencing loss.
Then he looked at Christy, standing in the doorway, as though not wanting to come into the room, his hands held at his sides in a helpless way, and Lev was transfixed for a moment, recognizing something of himself in the other man, some willingness to surrender and not fight, some dangerous longing for everything to be over. - from The Road Home, page 77 -
He was gradually coming to understand that the Irishman's loneliness was nearly as acute as his own. They were the same kind of age. They both longed to return to a time before the people they loved most were lost. - from The Road Home, page 80 -
Lev's story is painful at times. He misses Marina -- cannot seem to get past the loss of her -- and struggles to save money to send home to his daughter and mother. His future seems hopeless and he misses his country and his best friend, Rudi -- a gregarious man whose love affair with an American Chevy and his fondness for life make him immediately endearing.
Rudi was everything this story made him out to be - and more. He was a force of nature. He was a lightning bolt. He was a fire that never went out. - from The Road Home, page 277 -
It is largely Lev's friendship with men like Christy and Rudi which elevates him past his grief and imbues him with hope. When Lev recalls a hiking trip with Rudi to an isolated cave shortly after Marina's death, the reader begins to see there will be a future for him after all.
It was at this moment -- with Rudi halfway up the ladder -- that he heard himself whispering to his friend, "Don't look down ... don't look back ..." and he felt that he suddenly understood why Rudi had brought him here and that the thing he had to embrace was the idea of perseverance. - from The Road Home, page 127 -
The Road Home is a character-driven novel about loss and identity. It is a novel which reminds the reader that the past must sometimes be left behind in order to move forward. Dreams are the fuel for overcoming obstacles in this story of a man who must leave his home in order to find it again. Lev is a dreamer and a romantic. He is a character who readers want to see succeed, a man whose flaws are surpassed by his kind and vulnerable heart.
Rose Tremain has yet to disappoint me -- I've read Music and Silence (reviewed here) and The Colour (reviewed here) and found them both outstanding. Tremain's novels are written with sensitivity and insight into the human condition -- and The Road Home is perhaps her finest work. This novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008.
Five stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".