Continuing with my attempts to make sure I’ve read the books covered in events at the Bradford Literature Festival (or at least some of those of authors I may well get to meet – could be embarrassing otherwise) I next turned to the Lubetkin Legacy, the fifth novel by Marina Lewycka, and a setting which was much more familiar to me. It also contains many of the elements which made A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (and Lewycka’s other books) so successful – a cast of characters from around the world but with an emphasis of Eastern Europe, bittersweet humour and a firm basis in the difficulties faced in modern life.
The story revolves around actor Berthold Sidebottom (stage name Bert Side, obviously…), the slightly demented Inna who moves in with him to impersonate his mother for the benefit of the housing department, the beautiful Violet who has to decide between a career in ‘wealth management’ or something which allows her to sleep at night, a parrot called Flossie and a middle-aged Council housing officer called Mrs Penny. And the star of the show is the modernist block of flats where much of the action takes place – designed by architect Berthold Lubetkin in that post war period when anything seemed possible in terms of building communities worth living in. In the middle of the rather complex plot – featuring the tenancy of the Lubetkin-built flat, Berthold’s quest for love, coffee and a paying acting job and the fate of a cherry grove – you are invited to contemplate some aspects of modern life which are, currently, hard to ignore: zero-hours contracts, corporate greed, the bedroom tax and planning policy. Although there is a lot of wit and humour in this story there is also some anger at the way that modern life has betrayed the principles of the post war politicians.
I’m looking forward to Lewycka’s event at the Literature Festival. There will be plenty to raise a laugh and maybe also something to think more seriously about.