A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Despite the bucolic title, this is a novel about a parallel universe. But not in the sci fi sense, rather one that exists in our modern society that most of us aren’t aware of. Taking place in England, it involves workers who come from other countries to work on farms, in food production and other menial labor. While workers come from areas as diverse as Malawi and Malaysia, the largest group is from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet satellites whose crumbled economies allowed gangsters to gain control. These crooks form syndicates who prey on desperate immigrants, confiscating their passports and docking most of their pay as “expenses” for such things as vermin infested “accommodations”. Some of the women are “traded” into prostitution, as various petty gangsters barter humans as they climb the “mobilfon VIP” ladder. Though many of the workers are well educated in their own lands, the language barrier and culture shock makes them easy targets for the creepy VIPs who lie and sometimes kidnap them.
This environment, which is described dispassionately by the author, is where our half dozen main characters find themselves, specifically on a strawberry farm run by a slimy farmer. Their diverse personalities makes for a lively mix of conflicts and friendships; from the bossy Yola from Poland, Emmanuel from Africa, to the 2 Asian girls, but the focus eventually settles on 2 young Ukrainians, Irina, a professor’s daughter and Andriy, a former miner. When an accident occurs, the immigrants flee the farm, all packed into a tiny trailer, along with Dog, a big stray mongrel who is quite endearing. The bulk of the novel is what happens to them on their journey.
It’s a somewhat dark story told from various viewpoints, even briefly, Dog’s, but has an almost suspenseful flow with the villains and romances. The author shows you the harsh lives the immigrants lead, how they are snared and victimized, without ever being preachy. It’s a strange little book, probably because of the unfamiliar world it portrays, but the characters grow on you and you wish the good ones well.
Penguin 2007 294 pp. ISBN 978-1-59420-137-0