Sometimes when I try to understand what’s going on in the world, I find myself thinking about glue. Every adhesive interacts with surfaces and with the environment in its own particular ways; some are cured by light, some by hear, some by the exchange of subatomic particles, some simply by the passage of time. The skill in achieving a good bond is to match the appropriate adhesive to the adherends to be bonded. – Georgie Sinclair
Georgie Sinclair’s fail in the human bonding department, as her husband, Rip, walked out; her 16-year old son is busy surfing born-again websites and believing that the end of time is near; and all those overdue articles for Adhesives in the Modern World magazine and an attempt to write an unpromising “Splattered Heart” novel, despite rejection from the publishers, are getting her down.
So when Georgie spots Mrs Shapiro, an eccentric old Jewish neighbour with an eye for a bargain and a fondness for matchmaking, rummaging through her skip in het middle of the night, it’s just that distraction she needs. And although they mistrust each other at first – Georgie doesn’t like the look of that past-its-sell-by-date fish, while Mrs Shapiro thinks Georgie needs to smarten herself up and grab a new husband – a firm friendship is formed over the reduced-price shelf at the supermarket.
Then Mrs Shapiro is admitted to hospital and to Georgie’s surprise, she is named as her next of kin. But sorting out Mrs Shapiro’s semi-derelict mansion, Canaan House, in Highbury, home to 7 stinky cats with agendas of their own, is no easy job. Georgie has to solve the mysterious breaking of the kitchen door and turning off of water tap. When the handyman called in to change the locks, Ali the Palestinian, turns out to be not what he seems and his two assistants, are doing more breaking than fixing.
And what about the two slimy estate agents, Mark Diabello and Nick Wolfe of Wolfe & Diabello (one with a charming taste for bondage) who are competing to trick Mrs Shapiro into selling her rickety old house? They said the mansion was worth £2 million or more for development site and the real estate agents are persuading Mrs Shapiro to sell it. What about the social worker, Mrs Goodney, who is determined to commit her to a nursing home? One day, Mrs Shapiro was hauled away to a nursing home and her house will be up on the market. Georgie has to step in to help her new friend. In the midst of nursing her own wound, and helping her own friend, Georgie she finds herself unravelling mystery about Naomi Shapiro’s past life. Who is the beautiful woman who is married to Artem? Where is the missing son? Who is Naomi Shapiro? Who is Ella Weschler? Are they the same person? What happen in Lydda? Where is Artem when Naomi gave birth to her son, Chaim?
Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was a treat. Subsequent novel Two Caravans was a letdown. This recent one is more sensible and sensitive. Lewycka handles world affairs topics which affects our world today, without losing her brand of humour which made her earlier novels a bestseller. Lewycka narrates parallel human tragedies of the expulsion of Jews in Europe and the expulsion of Palestinian from their land. A land where the original inhabitants are from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia, a land of migrants. We are also reminded that Jews are not synonym to the Israel state, and that there exists self-hating Jews who are not neo-zionism and oppose the setup of the Israel state.
If you could get the human bonding right, maybe the other details – laws, boundaries, constitution – would all fall into place. It was just a case of finding the right adhesive for the adherends. Mercy. Forgiveness. If only it came in tubes.
Lewycka has a knack of weaving an intriguing tale from the lives of everyday normal people and bring out the humorous irony of old age. A peace theme permeates in this book (similar to The Lost Symbol, I always detect a common thread of the same topic or theme when I read one book after the other, wonder if you experience the same?). The ending is a happy one. The irony is sometimes we don’t have to like one another to co-exists in the same house (same group, same workplace, same nation… etc.), all it is required is to be civilised enough to prevent the friction from culminating into a full-blown war. Sometimes we have to sandblast or roughen the surface of two objects (adherends, in this case), in order to bond well.
What I like most about the book: Quirky with a heart. Quick 5 minute introduction about the Middle-east conflict and Armageddon. I like the use of glue as a metaphor for human relationships and peace.
What I like least about the book: Can be a little cheesy.
About the Writer:
Marina Lewycka was born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, at the end of the Second World War and grew up in England. She now lives in Sheffield and teaches Media Studies part-time at Sheffield Hallam University.
Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, published in March 2005, was short-listed for the Orange Prize, long-listed for the Booker prize, and won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction, and the Saga Award for Wit. It has been translated into a number of other languages. Her latest novel, Two Caravans, published in March 2007, has been described as ‘heartfelt and funny’ (Daily Mail) and ‘hilarious and horrifying’ (Guardian).