Books: Lost in translation - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Books: Lost in translation

Liz Jensen appreciates the hard graft of imported blooms as they bed down for a new life in alien soil

Foreign Brides

by Elena Lappin

Picador, pounds 12.99, 250pp

ALL EMIGReS have the same basic story to tell," writes the Russian- born storyteller Elena Lappin in her immensely likeable first collection. And her female protagonists - the uprooted and transplanted, the re-potted and the badly greenhoused - proceed to do just that, recounting their own versions of arrival and adjustment in the unexotic climates they now call home. These are invisible imports who arrive at airports and either wilt or flourish, according to the quality of after-care from their husbands. Engaging, and breezily frank, Lappin charts the adaptation to their new soil with mordant gusto.

Israel, Britain, and the US - all adopted home turf in some way to Lappin - feature as the backdrops of these economic refugees, exiles from eastern Europe. They are stories which see emigration as "a suicide of sorts"; but a comic suicide. In "Black Train", a Czech family, shamed into departure by an embarrassing incident rather than political upheaval, is faced with the slow realisation that Canada is not a "playground" but "a real country we were supposed to call home, and couldn't." Anyone who has ever lived as a stranger in a strange land will identify with the jaunty despair of these protagonists.

Lappin uses a lithe and frolicsome language, full of entertainment and her own brand of jaded joie de vivre. It takes nerve to entitle a short story "Bad Writing" - but such acts of cheek are part of the delight. While a woman struggles to remove her wedding ring on the New York subway, to hand to her mugger, she reflects that she only came to be wearing it in the first place because "at twenty-two I was sun-tanned, invincibly stupid, and determined to marry my dying best friend's middle-aged husband". Screwing the husband silly and stepping into her dead friend's shoes, she develops a coke habit, and tries to write in English. "Beautifully truncated" is the verdict of her creative writing teacher. "Just very, very bad," is her own.

These rueful tales return to the hopes and dreams lost in transit, or in translation, leaving only the wounds of grafting. In "Yoga Holiday" a Frenchwoman re-encounters the "monster" for whom she worked as an au pair 25 years before. She finally learns the cause of her employer's monstrosity; a miserable marriage to a man about to abandon her for his mistress. Now, a small, long-delayed epiphany of understanding can take place.

Perhaps it's the most the foreigner can hope for: to grasp the meaning of an action or phrase that has long puzzled. It's often said that to be a writer is to be an outsider, one whose nose is forever pressed against the pane. If that is true, then to be a foreign writer is to be doubly exiled. Or, in Elena Lappin's case, doubly blessed.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week