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

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin