The quote from that great novel of economic migration, The Grapes of Wrath, at the beginning of Rose Tremain's latest novel, can leave us in little doubt as to her intentions with this sympathetic, timely story of Eastern European, Lev, who travels to London looking for work. A widower with a young daughter and elderly mother to support, Lev wants only to improve his lot, with decent pay for a decent day's work.
But once Lev arrives in London, his aims begin to change. His travelling companion on the bus from Auror, Lydia, is looking for work as a translator. She has wealthy friends to put her up, and after a few nights sleeping rough, Lev contacts her for help. He has only found work distributing leaflets for a kebab shop and his funds are already dwindling. Lydia invites her for dinner with her friends and it is there that Lev experiences his epiphany. What he wants, is what has been impossible for him so far back home, and it is what these friends of Lydia's have found: a comfortable, middle-class existence.
Lev's middle-class ambitions - for a home of his own, nice wine on the table, a safe and leafy street to live in - are constantly thwarted by what he finds as he searches London streets for work. Overweight Britons, pasty-faced and unfriendly, can hardly be aligned with his oh-so "British" aspirations. It is the non-Britons who help him, like the kebab shop owner and Lev's landlord, Christy, an Irish plumber also been separated from his daughter, although for different reasons from Lev - his wife, Angela has left him for someone else and taken their daughter with her. …