Friday, 13 July 2012

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian  by Marina Lewycka

One of those books which has had such a buzz about it, you know that sooner or later you must get round to reading it. I got the Kindle edition.

Nadia and her sister are trying to cope with their elderly, eccentric father who after being widowed, decides to marry a much younger, tarty woman Valentina who's obviously only after the money she thinks he has. When the marriage inevitably breaks down, the sisters scheme and plot to get Valentina out of their father's house, get him a divorce, get her deported back to Ukraine. Throughout the novel are extracts of their father's book - on tractors. And the back story of the family - their horrendous experiences during the war, and how they got out from behind the Iron Curtain to the west, is gradually revealed.

Well, it's a quirky book - don't think I've ever come across anything else where the main characters are Ukrainian - and I suspect that's partly why it did so well. I liked it though not as much as I thought I would. The most likeable character is the old man, for whom you mostly feel sorry. He's manipulated by his wife and then by his daughters, and the author doesn't grant him a lot of dignity, poor man. Valentina is a bit of a stereotype. At one point I thought she and Nadia were going to become friends despite it all but that didn't happen, disappointingly. Valentina has several men-friends on the go, but the ending was a bit predictable.

What I did like was the old man's obsession with writing about tractors, given all that was revealed about his and the Ukraine's past. A banal history of machines, when he could have been writing a wide ranging and tragic history of a people.

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