Literature Review: Stroika with a London View

Līga Horgana is back with another literature review, this time Vilis Lācītis' Stroika ar skatu uz Londonu, translated by the author into English as Stroika with a London View under the pseudonym William B. Foreignerski.

Stroika with a London View is a great piece of literature that shows the harsh experiences of economic immigrants while managing to be both very funny and serious at the same time. The author is a musician who goes by the name “Vilis Lāctis” in Latvian, and also translated the book into English himself under the pseudonym of “William B. Foreignerski.” This turned out to be a very successful debut in literature, getting nominated for the Annual Latvian Literary Award and also becoming the most read book of 2010 in the Latvian Language.

The story starts at the beginning of the new millennium – the year 2000, a few years before Latvia’s 2004 entry into the EU allowed its citizens to more easily work in the UK. A young musician with dreams to become a star but no money to move out from his in-law’s apartment or take care of his children decides to move to London, and make a lot of money working at a “stroika” (a word for “building site” that originally comes from Russian). Without a legal job permit, good knowledge of the local language, any work skills, or money to pay for living expenses, it turns out to be a tough challenge and a rough reality shared by thousands of Eastern Europeans and economic migrants from other places as well.

“Four years now I’ve been living in Germany,” he explained to me. “Four fucking years. In the beginning, I did some farm work, but there wasn’t any decent money in it. I never managed to learn the language, and the first year was especially tough. Now I am working for a Jewish guy from Ukraine, delivering goods for his shop. Whole of my life I’ve been working as a driver. Shite, I’m a Liepaja boy! We last long. He keeps me in the job because I work at least ten hours a day and seven days a week. Now I have just had my first vacation in three years. Mate, I have fucked up everything – my wife left me, and my daughter doesn’t talk to me anymore. I bought her a pair of earrings... expensive ones. She threw them into the rubbish bin. All because of money.” [1]

Luckily, the author is endowed with a great sense of humor and an admirable talent for talking about these issues without gloom and too much seriousness. Reading the novel, I personally had the impression that he wanted to tell the story simply and humbly without trying overly hard to pen an award-baiting literary masterpiece. He is able to detail situations such as the average workday at the building site, struggling to pay rent, saving up by skipping showering and washing clothes, suffering from unsatisfied sexual needs, digging through trash to find food, etc., in a way that is absolutely charming and captivating. However, the central story of the tough lessons the economic migrants have to learn to succeed is complemented with some more unusual elements – an entertaining criminal plot and insight into some Christian sect whose members believe that the end of the world is just a few weeks away.

The relevant main issue, excellent sense of humor, and interesting plot gives the novel a chance to be liked by a wide range of readers. Although I do not have experience working abroad in Great Britain or anywhere else, I still had a lot of fun reading it, and I would suggest this book to those who are looking for something entertaining yet serious.

[1] Foreignerski, W. B. (2019). Stroika with a London View. London: Austin McCauley Publisher. Page 12.

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