The Road Home

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Rose Tremain’s The Road Home, a novel of economic migration in the new Europe, is so obsessed with food that it’s a surprise that it doesn’t, like Under the Tuscan Sun and Like Water for Chocolate, include recipes. For Tremain, cooking becomes a stand-in for the pleasures of prosperity, the sensual overload of life outside the Eastern Bloc, and love and self-respect. Dozing on the bus from Ukraine to England, Lev remembers his father’s lunches of sliced sausages and cold tea. Once in London, he spends his first few pounds on the local equivalent, two hot dogs and a soda.

Lev, of course, winds up working restaurant jobs: washing dishes, doing prep. Between shifts, he writes home to his mother and daughter, and slowly moves through his intense grief over the loss of his wife. He is stuck between worlds—the Ukraine and England, his mournfulness and his hope for the future. It’s not until he learns that his hometown is threatened by a planned dam that he can rouse himself to reconcile his new life with his past.

Tremain’s contrasting visions of Russia (simple) and London (decadent) can get ridiculous; the novel verges on parody when Lev’s girlfriend takes him to implausibly thoughtless avant-garde theater, and leaves him for an artist who resembles Damien Hirst. But most of the book’s human-scale connections are persuasive, particularly Lev’s ties to guy friends, like the Tufnell Park roommate he watches out for through divorce and new love. If The Road Home is weighed down by its food fixation, it is also a timely and moving glimpse into the polyglot urban kitchen.

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By Rose Tremain. Little, Brown; $24.99.