Posts Tagged With: Marina Lewycka

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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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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