Friday, October 24, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

What a book-enriched week. I finished Home by Marilynne Robinson, and shortly thereafter found myself picking up The Road Home by Rose Tremain, both literary gems.

Home is the kind of book that's hard to booktalk because it sounds like a downer. The person who comes home is prodigal son Jack, an alcoholic. His family have been looking for him for twenty years. Left at home in Gilead, Iowa are his father, a frail retired minister, and his dutiful single sister, Glory. I'm not going to go into the plot anymore that, because for me just the profile of those three characters almost says it all. The potential drama and turmoil is all there. Marilynne Robinson reveals all three characters to the absolute depth of their souls, and yes, there is a lot of pain. Rarely do these characters leave the house, and it doesn't matter, there is so much going on. How strongly we come to care for Jack, Glory and for the dwindling husk of their father. Along with their pain is a whole lot of human decency, and that alone brought me near tears several times.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain is all about Lev, who leaves his hometown in Eastern Europe because there is no work there, and his wife has died. We meet him as he sinks down in his bus seat for the long ride towards London, where he hopes to make enough money to support his young daughter and her grandmother. I always enjoy an immigrant's tale, and this one is superb. I've read so many that feature newcomers to America, such as The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri or A Free Life by Ha Jin. So it was interesting to read one set in England instead. Lev knows some English, and after a rough patch of sleeping on the streets, settles in with a job at a posh restaurant and a flatmate. He washes dishes and observes how the cooks achieve their masterpieces. He gets a cell phone and is able to communicate with those he left behind. Although he thinks he won't ever fall in love again, he does. And then he loses that love, and he struggles. He is always running out of money. He has a dream of returning home and starting a restaurant. He learns that his hometown is due to be flooded when a new dam is built. Lev is a daydreamer, and the author uses this characteristic well, deftly revealing Lev's hopes and favorite memories. Read The Road Home to find out if Lev's dreams come true.

Both titles are shoe-ins for my Best Books of 2008 list.

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