A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A story of a family; their current life and their history, is portrayed in “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” in a unique and interesting style.  I think that the easiest way to explain the main story line of this novel is by transcribing the opening paragraph of the book:


‘Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous 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, brining to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.’


The main narrative follows the partnership between the father (Nikolai) and the Ukrainian divorcee (Valentina) through the eyes of his daughter Nadia; however the romance is not as it seems which leads to an enticing tale of deception and mystery; and sisters united in removing this lady from their father’s life.  The book is set in England, where the family moved from the Ukraine after the Second World War.  Much of the comedy comes from the poor grasp of the English language; with Valentina making statements such as ‘ you plenty-money meanie.  You want give me crap cooker.’  In addition to situational comedy moments, such as the daughters anguish at hearing their fathers interest in Valentina’s ‘breasts like ripe peaches’.  There flows enough comedy to keep you lightly tickled throughout. 


I found the most compelling part of this book however to be the layers of story that had subtly been woven in.  There was the present day drama of the father’s romance, which brought together his two daughters in a common cause, when they hadn’t spoken for sometime previously.  The development of the sisters relationship was interesting, but also allowed for a narrative on the history of the family, how they came to be in England and what happened during the War to the parents.  At the same time, the father is writing his life’s work, a book by the same name of the novel (if you were wondering how that came into the story).  Parts of his book on tractors are transcribed as he is reading them to anyone that will listen, and this gives another dimension to the story.  The history of tractors is weaved into an overriding history of the Ukraine, technology and again, the war.  All of these layers of story together, for me, made what was a book with a slow start, quite an enjoyable read once all was told. 



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