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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Lewycka follows tractors with caravans
Marina Lewycka
Lewycka is a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University
Author Marina Lewycka, whose debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was a multi-award-winning smash, has told the BBC about the pressures of writing the follow-up, Two Caravans.

Having won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit, the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and been shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction, Lewycka's debut was popular with both critics and the public.

Two Caravans, her second novel, follows the experiences of two Ukrainians, four Poles, two Chinese and a Malawian, who find themselves picking strawberries in the same field in Kent.

Lewycka told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme that the weight of expectation on her second novel had informed how she approached writing it.

"People want you to do the same thing, but also want you to do something different," she said.

"So that's what I've tried to do with my new novel - I've tried to be both the same and different."


Lewycka is herself of Ukrainian origin, although she was born in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, just after the end of World War II.

She said that Two Caravans' Ukrainian characters were based on people she met during a visit to Ukraine while researching A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

During the trip, Lewycka sought out and met her family which remain there - including her aunt, who still lives in the flat her mother had once lived in.

Strawberry pickers
Two Caravans looks at the lives of migrant strawberry-pickers
She explained that this meeting made her think that if her parents had not arrived in England at the end of the war, it was likely she would now be part of the influx of migrant labour.

"In a way, that was the core of the new book," she said.

"What are the lives of the new Ukrainians coming into England like - but also, where have they come from, and what stories and background have they brought with them?"

The book begins by examining the plight of the workers in strawberry fields - before moving to what Lewycka sees as the horrors of battery farms.

Enormous obstacles

"I had this idea of doing a Robin Hood story, life from the bottom up," she said.

"Although part of it was horrible, also part of it was very lovely - being outdoors in the beautiful countryside."

She also said that migrant workers, not only in Ukraine but all over the world, have dreams of what life in the West is going to be like - and "don't expect it's going to be quite as horrible as it is when they get here".

"People expect that they're going to be welcomed, for example, and they expect that if they work hard, they will prosper - and sometimes people do prosper - but often they have to overcome enormous obstacles," she added.

At one point during Two Caravans, two Chinese characters simply disappear and are never heard from again.

Lewycka said that this was a narrative decision reflecting the reality of life.

"People do simply disappear, and nobody ever knows really what happens to them," she said.

"Their parents are desperate, they seek for them - but they have no way of making contact."

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