fiction, review

Two Caravans

Capitalism and communism will always be warring in silence, though sometimes it’s too obvious to remain subtle, and we will always find ourselves taking the capitalist side. It is its promise of prosperity and luxury that makes it successfully invasive, spreading and gnawing away at the world inside out, demanding the evil of us in return for the money it generously hands us. Sometimes, it does not only demand our evil side of self, but also our suffering and sacrifice. This is what is reflected in the novel Two Caravans. Set in the capitalist England, and imaginary Ukraine at times, this second book of Marina Lewycka still, in the tradition of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, talks about how attractive money can be and how a rich, prosperous country will never lose its magnetic features.

Two Caravans is a comedy about some immigrants, seemingly illegal, running to England in search of a better life. Tricked by an evil, greedy agent, Irina, Andriy, Vitaly, Emmanuel, Marta, Yola, Tommaz, and two Chinese girls coming from two different countries (China and Malaysia) have to settle for an underpaid strawberry-picking job while they’re dreaming of earning big money. And that’s only for starters. They also have to willingly surrender their lives to the agent controlling their fate and sucking them dry, get their wages cut for many deductions. They run, needless to say, but they cannot run away from the challenges and problems of being illegal immigrants. They’re separated, desperate, almost getting caught, and running all the times like wanted prisoners. And all the while, Irina and Andriy must also bear the inevitably sparking love between them, love that seems to be hindered by their opposite viewpoints on their home country, Ukraine, which has turned its back on them with arms wide open to communism.

All the characters appear in Two Caravans are people desperate enough about their future to leave their home to pursue what a rich capitalist country has to offer, even those who hate capitalism. They all have the same dream, the same aim: money and prosperity, despite the different backgrounds and cultures. And Lewycka has successfully described their each characterization in vivid clarity, without leaving behind a single detail of what they think of, how they behave, and even how they talk in awkward English. There are also several more characters in the novel, but Lewycka doesn’t seem to have difficulty in portraying them all, and in a rudely hilarious way, too. What’s so bothering is, unfortunately, the evil character which is supposed to be the prime attraction. His characterization is somehow over the top, however still funny it may seem, and devilishly annoying to read.

The whole point of this book is, obviously, how we are caught in the middle of capitalism and communism, showcasing mostly how people struggle for prosperity in the land of capitalists, and what communism has caused us to suffer. It’s like there is no way out. Living in capitalism makes you act like zombies, while staying in communism only gives you starvation. Capitalism can promise you many things, anything you want, but you have to pay it with your blood, with your being a robot doing what people tell you to and, more often than not, without considering the consequences. People are running away from communism, but at what cost? It’s not only competition we have to deal with in a capitalist world, but the loss of our nature as human beings, too. Both capitalism and communism have their own negative aspects, although people think it is communism which is more dangerous to human kind.

Marina Lewycka, once again, succeeds in presenting to us all those things above in her hilarious, light comedy. She consistently refuses to use a heavy, serious narrative in speaking out her mind, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not serious at all. She implies her stern opinion by way of a painfully laughable comical story, with a complicated yet compact plot interesting enough to make me bear 1/3 of the book, which is quite boring. Thankfully, the bumpy road all the characters have to take along the rest of the book helps me enjoy it immensely. The surprises and quirky tension lacing almost every funny scene also assist the story to heighten up its great impression. Some scenes are too silly and slapstick sometimes, but I’ve learned that it’s been Lewycka’s typical characteristic in writing. I can’t complain. And she never cares to use such a beautiful, intricate language, either.  She doesn’t need to, because what she wants to say is naturally supposed to be expressed in satirically literal sentences, just the way they are. Two Caravans is indubitably a nice work of literary composition, inviting you to laugh at the world with its laughable story.

So, all things considered, I’d like to recommend this book to anyone who has a particular interest in issues of the world, but may want to spare themselves from the trouble of reading something heavy and depressing. Two Caravans is very enlightening, smart, funny, intriguing, thoughtful, and delivering its message in a subtle yet poignant way.

Rating: 3.5/5

1 thought on “Two Caravans”

  1. I’ve read her first novel and quite like it. I think I might try this one too… interesting plot especially considering Ukraine’s current condition, it will be interesting to read something with the country’s background.

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