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Strawberry Fields: A Novel Hardcover – August 16, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

U.K.-based Lewycka, a Booker and Orange Prize nominee for 2005's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, follows up with a Chaucer-inspired tale of migrant workers trapped at global capital's thuggish bottom. After being helped into England by men like Vulk, an armed, lecherous creep of indeterminate former east bloc origins, a disparate group of strawberry pickers begins a pilgrimage-like search for labor across the countryside after their philandering boss is run over and crippled by his wife. Among them are two Ukrainians: Irina, a naïve teenager from Kiev, and Andriy, a former coal miner. After a brief stop in Canterbury, the workers—from Malawi, China, Malaysia and elsewhere—arrive in Dover with their loyal dog. There, they unexpectedly meet shady recruitment consultant Vitaly, who promises jobs in the dynamic resurgence of the poultry industry. The plot moves slowly, and things get worse for the group. Lewycka doesn't have a perfect command of all the cultures she aims to represent, making some of her satires broad and unfunny. There are, however, captivating scenes (some not for the squeamish), and many of the characters are complex and multifaceted, Irina and Andriy in particular. As a send up of capitalism's grip on the global everyman, Lewycka's ensemble novel complements Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

This affectionate follow-up to Lewycka’s début novel (about a Ukrainian family assimilating to contemporary Britain) plays out similar themes of immigrant struggle on a broader scale. A cast of itinerant characters realize that picking strawberries in Kent is more lucrative than white-collar jobs in their homelands, and narrate their journeys in the spirit of Chaucer’s pilgrims. Among them are a domineering Polish woman and her mild-mannered niece; a seventeen-year-old Malawian whose innocence is in inverse proportion to the tragedies of his past; two giggly but intellectual Chinese girls; and a pair of antagonistic Ukrainians (she the educated daughter of a professor, he the pragmatic son of a miner). Lewycka’s stylistic quirks can sometimes fall flat—a dog with Disney-like abilities to rescue characters gets a recurrent speaking role—but the jostle of voices creates an effervescent comedy, beneath which lies a more sombre look at the costs of globalization.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (August 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201370
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,406,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on August 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
it doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields

I approached Marina Lewycka's "Strawberry Fields" with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Lewycka's first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, was a first-rate farce, a brilliant book. Second novels are challenging, both for the author and for the reader. The author is challenged to live up to the promise of her first work. The reader is challenged by virtue of his own heightened expectation and anticipation that the second work will match the qualities of the first novel. Happily, Lewycka was up to the task and "Strawberry Fields" was a funny, satisfying book to read.

The title refers to the strawberry fields found in Kent, England which during the summer are populated by migrant agricultural workers from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. The story opens with the arrival of a new worker, Irina, in a strawberry field in Kent, England. Irina is a young girl straight off the bus from Kiev. She is teamed up with a motley group of workers from Poland (Yola, Tomasz, and Marta), Ukraine (Andriy), Malawi (Emanuel), and China (known to the crew only as Chinese Girls One and Two). The field has two trailers for the crew to sleep in - one for the women and one for the men. (The book's title in the UK is "Two Caravans).

Life for migrant agricultural workers in England is no picnic but Irina and her fellow workers form a familial bond - one that is quirky and dysfunctional but very touching and well-drawn.
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Format: Hardcover
Following her success after the first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Lewycka treats her readers to yet another delightful story - this time about Eastern European immigrants picking strawberries, and then some. The plot draws you in, and the reader is kept continuously engaged as each of the characters - Andriy, Irina, Yola, Tomasz, Emanuel, Dog and others - narrates the story from their personal point of view.

The novel's strengths are numerous. Take for example its characters who are very diverse and at times completely incompatible. Thus Yola (from Zdroj, Lonely Planet Poland) cannot stand Tomasz who is trying his best to impress her through his off-key singing; stealing the underwear does not help poor "Tomek" either. Irina, a history professor's daughter from Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine dismisses the attention of Andriy, the hard-working son of a miner from Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. That she's from the "Orange" camp and he's from the "Blue and White" ( Ukraine's Orange Revolution) makes the relationship even more charged. The characters' nationalities range from Ukrainians and Poles to Malawians and Chinese, from Romanians and Slovaks to Bulgarians and Moldovans, and others.

Another strength of Lewycka's writing is her unique style.
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Format: Hardcover
Before I read this book I was told it was "very funny". That is not true according to my understanding of fun. However it changes something fundamental within you and changes your outlook on humanity, as pertaining to the large picture of life, and illegal immigrants regarding to a narrower view. The book gives good insight into the lives of people who look for a better life in the west with a naive belief in its riches and benevolence while being not so terrifying, depressing and violent that one is depressed for a week after reading.
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The balance between joy and sadness is found within this book, as is the balance between hope and lack of much to look forward to. Within these pages a story is told of those who leave their home lives and travel to another country with nothing but their dreams, only to have those dreams caught in a net that is the captivity of being a field worker. Trapped in a system of owing the people they work for, these characters find a way beyond their bondage in a somewhat unusual way, and their adventures into their various forms of freedom are quite interesting to experience. The reader's heart travels along with the characters on their various journeys, lifting up as hope comes to them and sinking down when realization hits that yet again things haven't been as they seemed.

I took a moment to adjust to the various perspectives within the book, as some characters stories are told in first person while some are told in third, but the adjustment didn't take long and the way that technique was used actually adds to the book in an impressive way. Reading Strawberry Fields made me glad I that mostly I choose vegetable over meat, as the section with the chicken processing plant was a point where I almost had to put the book down and walk away. I feel as if I honestly struggled along with the characters by pushing through that section and continuing on to the end of the story, reaching a depth of experience that I don't often get when reading a work of fiction. If you are a tenderhearted person picking up this book, be ready to go through some hardships, but know that this read is very much worth it.
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