Two Caravans (Fig Tree)
Newcomers will quickly appreciate the talent for voice, character, humour and honesty that earned Marina Lewycka such plaudits for her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. The two caravans of the title make up the male and female accommodation of largely East European strawberry pickers in Kent and within a few pages the reader has been sparingly but categorically introduced to a cast of 11 colourful characters, each with their own contrary traits and allegiances.
These players are represented with commendable empathy and in a variety of written styles, and as their stories branch out, roam and converge they encounter a host of appalling working conditions and despicable gangsters, all underpinned by a slow-burning romance. Ultimately the real trick that Lewycka pulls off is to draw attention to the struggles that legal and illegal immigrants to the UK face in the most upbeat, human and often humorous way without ever descending into farce or lecture.