Thursday, 4 July 2013

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (4/5)

First published: 2005
Page count: 324

The back says: ‘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, 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 émigré 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...

I say: This novel was equal parts delightful and disturbing, but I never found it funny (which the reviews seem to indicate). Although I understand where the humour was supposed to lie, it just wasn’t amusing to me.
At all.

The delightful parts were mostly the conversations between Vera and Nadezhda when they were discussing their father and his new wife, as well as their conversations with him. I never laughed once while reading this, but I did smile a few times. Mostly, however, I found the whole business with Ukrainian Valentina trying to marry an 84 year-old-man in order to stay in the UK very disturbing; not because I don’t condone marriages of convenience, but because she was so abusive and he was so obviously crazy. I found myself getting more and more frustrated with the sisters’ reluctance to take action, but once they did I was cheering for them wholeheartedly.
My, oh my, was this a riveting read.

Lewycka’s prose was very light-hearted and genial despite the heavy subjects presented, which is what made the novel easy to get through. There is a lot of Ukrainian history imbedded within the story, which I found very fascinating – especially since I don’t know that much about the country’s history other than through the Soviet connection. I even thought the father’s book about tractors was interesting, which was surprising because... tractors!
4/5 because it was a great and quick read which at one point had me wishing I could read faster because I was dying to know what was going to happen. I look forward to reading more from Lewycka (and I actually have another one of her novels in my bookshelf that’s been ignored for a couple of years – yay me!?).

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