A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka


Synopsis (from back of book):
“Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamourous blonde Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.” Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must put aside a lifetime of feuding to save their engineer father from voluptuous gold-digger Valentina. With her proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, she will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth. But the sisters’ campaign to oust Valentina unearths family secrets, uncovers fifty years of Europe’s darkest history and sends them back to roots they’d much rather forget…

It’s been a while since I was quite this disappointed by a book. The front cover quote from the Daily Telegraph says it’s “Mad and hilarious”, so I would have expected it to be at least a little funny, but there were only really a couple of moments that I could describe as being “mildly amusing” at best.

I didn’t like any of the characters – the father was a pathetic, gullible old fool (and a bit of a dirty old man, to be honest); the two daughters come across as selfish, controlling and nagging; and the dead mother as being far too saintly and too-good-to-be-true. The only character that held any interest for me was Valentina – the character I was supposed to hate – at least she had a bit of spirit.

The book seems to be split into three separate stories: 1) the story of a man in his 80s being taken in by a 36-year-old woman, 2) the family history, and 3) the history of tractors. The 1st story is the one I found most turgid, to be honest; the 2nd held a little more interest, as it’s always nice to find out more about other cultures, but most surprisingly, the bit I was most interested in was the third story – the history of tractors being written by the old man!

Throughout the book, the writing seemed very disjointed – lots of little paragraphs, many of which jumped around and had no association with one another. I honestly can’t see why this won one award and was nominated for another.

I wanted to like this book and I persevered, but my sincere hope that it would pick up was never answered.

I also didn’t like how whenever there’s a sarcastic comment made in the narrative, “ha ha” is placed in brackets immediately afterwards, because, obviously, readers don’t understand the concept of sarcasm (Ha ha!).

I’m afraid I found this severely over-hyped and very disappointing – I’ll not be bothering with any other books Lewycka might write – I just don’t like her style at all.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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