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Spotting this book in a charity shop in Devon, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been about tractors. However it is not, it is actually one of the funniest books I have ever read, think Bridget Jones funny. This is the story of how a Nikolai, a widowed old man falls for the charms of a much younger, visa seeking gold-digger who reminds him of his homeland 'Ukrainia'. The title refers to a book that the old man is writing through the course of the story. Told through the eyes of one of his two concerned daughters, it will resonate with anyone familiar with looking after elderly family and the worry that comes with it. Touching at some points, spit your coffee out funny at others, it is great for some light relief and it is no wonder that it is an award winner. If you're looking for something a little different than your ordinary read, then this could be it!
This much vaunted debut novel has a simple plot. An elderly Ukranian living in England falls in love and decides to marry a much younger lady, who seems very obviously to be only interested in one thing - permanent residency in the UK. The story is told through the eyes of one of his two daughters, both of whom are determined that it will not happen. The two siblings are very different individuals who have fought more or less throughout their lives, but they gradually become united in their opposition to their potential new stepmother (who is considerably younger than both of them!) and who are drawn closer to each other as a consequence.
I should start by saying that I can see why this book attracted so much positive attention from the critics - if nothing else, it is certainly very different in style and content from anything else that I can remember reading recently. There is also an element of wanting to get to the end to find out if the sisters are successful in repelling the enemy in their midst. However I would concur with other reviewers in that I found slightly depressing rather than 'hilarious' (although at times I suppose it would be fair to say that I found it wryly amusing). We have on one side the old man who, whilst clearly still in some control of his mental faculties, as evidenced by his work on the book which is the origin of the title of Lewycka's novel, is struggling to cope with life. Into his life comes a vamp of dubious morals, who is so desperate to escape the Ukraine that she is prepared to shack up with him for the sake of being able to live in the UK! Where is the comedy in that?
If you are looking for a History lesson on the Ukraine and tractors, there is plenty to get your teeth into, but I suspect that like me, many who read this simply skipped most of the italicised sections and continued with the story, which thus rendered them rather pointless. I also found the very last couple of pages a bit bizarre......
So all in all, I would say that it is worth a read, if only so that you can decide for yourself whether it was worth all the praise that it received. I certainly do not regret having picked it up, but I would doubt whether I will read it again.
It was the title, I'll admit it. Well, the title coupled with the 'extremely funny' verdict from The Times. (It's even 'mad and hilarious', according to the Daily Telegraph, which was actually slightly off-putting since critics never normally use 'hilarious' unless they mean 'fart jokes'.) How could a novel involving a history of tractors in Ukrainian be even mildly entertaining? I'll admit to having been a little bit intrigued. However, I suspect that this book would have lingered, hopelessly forgotten, somewhere near the bottom of my mental 'to be read' list if it hadn't been for my book club selecting it as that month's read. So, 'hilarious' tractors? 'Extremely funny' history? Could any novel live up to such promises?
== Plot ==
Sisters Vera and Nadia have never really seen eye to eye - in fact, they haven't spoken in the two years following their mother's funeral. They'd be quite happy never to speak again, were it not for the arrival of a common enemy: Valentina. Dum-dum-duuummm! She is a 'fluffy pink grenade' who dresses in green satin underwear, cooks boil-in-the-bag rice (which she believes is the height of luxury) and wants to marry their aged father so she can get a passport, visa, work permit - and the girls' inheritance. When Nadia discovers this from a chirpy phone call with her pappa, she soon feels obliged to involve Big Sister, despite her father's attempt to keep them both at a distance.
Despite their mutual loathing, the sisters simply cannot let this happen to their father (or their inheritance) and they set out to save Nikolai, even though he is initially quite happy (largely because Valentina sits on his lap and lets him fondle her "superior" breasts). As time goes on, the sisters step up their campaign to remove Valentina by taking her to court, an ever-expanding group of men begin to fight over the beautiful would-be-immigrant and a terrible family history is unearthed. As the story progresses, Nikolai is treated increasingly badly by his young wife, who struggles to adapt to American life. Keen to escape the mounting chaos surrounding him, he buries himself in his latest project: writing a history of tractors in his native tongue.
== Style ==
So far, so dramatic - or at least it would be, if it weren't for Lewycka's persistent desire to turn family trauma into light hearted comedy. From the opening pages, the sisters view their father with what appears to be contempt: Nadia's response to news of her father's engagement encompasses the words "bonkers...foolish...traitor...[and] randy old beast", although she says none of these out loud. Vera is adamant that pappa "has no common sense" and is simply "mesmerised by [Valentina's] boobs". Despite their overt hostility towards each other, and their belief that their father is being taken advantage of, Lewycka draws out a lightly comedic element in their heated exchanges. When pushed by Vera to admit that their father has simply been overwhelmed by his desire to touch Valentina's chest, Nadia weakly responds that he "talks about tractors a lot" too.
Personally, I found much of the "humour" in the novel uncomfortable. At one point, when a character soils himself through fear, we are encouraged to laugh at him rather than empathise. The smell of his excrement is criticised and he is treated as little more than an irritation. I was not able to see the humour in moments like these and felt that the story would have been more powerful without such cold humour. I feel that I am in a minority when making this judgement, since the book is heralded by many critics precisely for its humour, but I often felt that I was being encouraged to laugh at characters who should have had my sympathy.
== Characterisation ==
Of course, it is easier to sympathise with characters who are fully rounded people, and these aren't. Vera and Nadia are shrill opposites, created to give voices to 'left' and 'right' viewpoints, and eventually to suggest the power of culture in shaping your beliefs and personality. Nikolai is an eccentric genius who eccentricity is evident but whose genius is only proven through laboured passages relating the history of tractors. Valentina is a comic stereotype: a grasping immigrant who will sleep with (almost) anyone to get a better class of car and refrigerator. If you look hard for them, there are hints of greater complexity in Valentina: she is clearly hardworking and is cheap labour for her employers. Ultimately, these undercurrents are barely visible though, and what stands out is her supreme selfishness. She uses everyone around her to get what she wants, including her own son. In a pivotal scene late in the novel, she becomes a figure of fun as a lawyer laughs behind her back at her ignorance of the British legal system and her efforts to get what she believes she has earned. She is violent towards Nikolai, although this is depicted in a rather slapstick manner - perhaps to show how ineffectual she is? Only Valentina's son, Stanislav, is a truly sympathetic character, rather than one to be laughed at, and he is very much a minor character.
I wanted the characters to be more convincing. I found the debates between the intellectual characters seemed dry and limiting (you are what you are because of when and where you were born) and therefore rather depressing. I wanted in particular to see more of Valentina, who is held at arm's length throughout the story. I could not really care about any of these characters, which meant that I could not engage properly in their story. I felt uncomfortable when I was encouraged to laugh at passionate characters who were suffering - albeit through faults of their own. It didn't help that none of the characters seemed to like each other, so I was constantly looking at critical perspectives. I was particularly surprised by how coldly the older sister treated her father, referring to him as 'contemptible'. Perhaps this is simply an over-sensitivity on my part; perhaps coming from a rather uncomfortable family background myself, I would rather read about happy families! Actually, the bickering and discomfort between the family members was the most convincing aspect of the whole story for me. I believed in their arguments and difficulties. I just didn't find it comic, or find them likeable - perhaps it was too close to the bone.
== Structure ==
As the story continues, events do become more dramatic, although I won't spoil the story by revealing what happens. Life becomes more and more convoluted until a rather unconvincing development which neatly wraps up the whole story and allows a much more closed ending than I'd anticipated. I feel that I shouldn't really be complaining - I like closed endings - but it did feel very contrived and unconvincing. I felt that the characters would not have acted in the way that they did and that it was a very easy resolution - almost a cheat.
Furthermore, the back cover promised that deep family secrets would be revealed, but I felt that really the writer just laboured to make the point that birth affects everything about you, which I don't agree with, and that past events have a powerful affect on the present, which is obvious. I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that the secrets revealed, or hinted at, as the past is never made clear, do not constitute a dramatic discovery in the way the back cover might suggest. Instead, the book focuses more on the difficulties inherent in attempting to excavate the past and understand it. This is actually quite an interesting angle to take, and it was intriguing to hear the different versions of history outlined by Nikolai and Vera. History depends so much on the teller. I did find this quite interesting, although I had been anticipating a big reveal that never really happened. I think the blurb could be adjusted to reflect the exploratory, rather than declamatory, nature of the family history, as readers looking for a big secret could be disappointed.
== Tractors ==
Finally - the topic of the title; the hero of the hour; the vehicle of Valentina (not really): the tractors. As I mentioned earlier, the tractors are the star of Nikolai's historical text which he writes as an escape from the chaos around him. And...that's it really. Although they are given such prominent billing in the title, the tractors are really just an opportunity for the writer to show that, although he might be a bit of a loon, Nikolai is still a highly intelligent and knowledgeable man. I really can't think of another purpose for them (comments welcomed) although I suppose they could also be there to show us something about history, perhaps the way technology has affected development, or the way that civilisation is built on things you would never really expect it to have a debt to. Mostly, I suspect, the title is there to tickle your interest...and it works.
Throughout the novel, we are given sections of Nikolai's seminal text verbatim. Unfortunately, I found these sections exceedingly dull and, although I did read them, I struggled to take them in and make anything of them. Personally, I feel that they could have been shortened considerably without losing anything...although this is largely because I'm not sure what they were meant to add.
== Conclusions ==
"Reading this novel gave me the impression that I had read a school textbook on Ukrainian history with one eye on an episode of Coronation Street."
* Andrey Kurkov
When I saw the above quotation (at the end of a review in the Guardian), I felt that it perfectly summarised my feelings about this novel. The extreme events and one dimensional characters rest uneasily beside paragraphs recalling wartime brutality and the history of tractors. The dramatic confrontations and stereotyped characters definitely reminded me of a soap opera, with its villains and built-in-bitchiness. That said, I did enjoy reading the book more than it might seem, given my comments so far, and I did chuckle slightly at some of the recurring motifs ("crap car" and "crap cooker" equal a "crap husband" in Valentina's very firm opinion). I also felt that the non standard speech patterns used by Nikolai and Valentina reflected their different situations well and helped me to imagine their dialogue and characters more easily.
However, my enjoyment was lowered by the writer's determination to turn the serious issues around immigration and abuse of the elderly into a series of jokes. Humour can help to encourage action, but I felt that I was being encouraged to dismiss hurtful events and attitudes while celebrating stereotypes. Subsequently, I found reading this book an uncomfortable experience overall: definitely "mad" but not "hilarious".
I was given this book as a gift from my dad, upon recieving it my initial reaction was "what the bl**dy hell am i meant to do with this?"
Dont be fooled by the title this book is not really a book about tractors.
This is a story written from the point of view of a Ukranian girl named Nadia, Nadia is in her 40's and 2 years ago her mother died, leaving her now 80 some thing father alone and single. Nadias father meets a Ukranian girl looking to become a British Citizen, falls in love with her massive boobies and marries her!
Valentina came into Nadia's life like a whirlwind of trouble, destruction and spending in aid of a western lifestyle and in the porcess digging up the family history.
This a lovely read. The book give a compelling record of the lives of Nadias family, it also ahve hillarious twists and turns making the book a great page turner.
I would definatley recommend this book, its more fo a read for females. My dad passed it on to me as he found it too girly. I would disagree but I can see it i more of a read for women. I feel men may be put of by the emotions and history involved in the book.
But buy this book! I never recommend something is worth buying at publish price, but pick up for under £5 and you have yourself a bargain.
I really expected to enjoy this book. Everything about it seemed pleasingly quirky, and all the reviews I'd seen promised it to be some kind of hilarious adventure with outrageous gold-digging and other hi-jinks.
The story is simple - a Ukranian economic migrant tries to muscle her way into marrying a frail old man, and his daughters attempt to stop it. That's pretty much it. What shocked me is that it's billed as a comedy, as this book is in no way funny. If anything it was a little harrowing and depressing - time after time the elderly father, the target of the gold-digger, is harrassed, abused and humiliated. Oh ho ho, he's soiled himself! How I laughed.
I know that with the right application of wit and talent pretty much anything can be made funny, and this situation is not excempt from that, but there is honestly no wit whatsoever in the writing. Putting sarcastic comments in brackets after every other line does not equate to humour, and nor does playing on the fact that, according to the author, 'foreigners can't speak English well'.
And of course there are the author's frequent references to feminism and liberalism, wherein she proves she knows the meaning of neither. 'I can't possibly dislike another woman, even though she is abusing my father, because I am a feminist'. Uh huh.
The plot was wafer thin, the writing flat, stilted and unengaging. The characters are as two-dimensional as they come, the awful tractor sections are irrelevant and dull, and worst of all, the author is basically retelling and embellishing something that happened to her. It's all based on her family, and what happened when an actual golddigger showed up to cause them trouble. And that to me seems exploitative and a little cruel, especially in her portrayal of the elderly father. I know people say 'write what you know' but this is taking it a bit too far.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka is a touching novel that delves into the world of second generation immigrants and their elders who are still struggling to integrate into British society.
I won't give away the whole plot, but the book centres around an old Ukranian man who is struggling to justify his existence in old age and tries to help others in order to fulfill this need.
He ends up being contacted by a well endowed woman from Ukraine who tells him that she needs his help. He brings her to the UK, where he has been living since world war II and they start living together, but not everyone is happy about it.
The book gets its title from the novel that the main character is writing himself - A short history of tractors (in Ukranian). As an engineer in the Soviet Union, he worked on tractors and other machinery and found a life time love of science and mechanics.
While the book is hilarious and very cleverly written with vivid characters, it also shows some of the real life hardship that people from Ukraine have had to endure over the last century and humanises people that most residents of the west simply know nothing about.
Towards the end of the novel the story, readers will get a realistic sense of what it was like to be a Ukrainian during the war.
A fantastic read.
I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to read "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" by Marina Lewycka, I had read her second book "Two Caravans" and found her style of writing a little strange. However a friend at work recommended it and lent me her book so I thought I would give it a try.
Firstly the title of the book is rather misleading it's not really all about the history of tractors although they do make appearances right through the book. Instead it is a story about Nikolia an elderly Ukrainian gentleman in his 80s who is now living in England. His wife died two years ago and his daughters who don't get on with each other since the death of their mother. However they are united in their shock to find out their father is going to marry again. Even worse than this it is to Valentina a blonde, busty 36 year old Ukrainian gold-digger. She wants to come to England to have a better life for her and her son. Vera and Nadia work together to try to get Valentina deported any way that they can.
I found this quite a strange book, the quotes on the front say it is "Extremely Funny" and "Mad and Hilarious" however I did not think it was that funny. Yes there are some really funny parts and a few comedy moments but there is also a lot of tragedy. Although you find yourself laughing at the unbearable Valentina you also find yourself shocked and saddened at what really is abuse of a vulnerable adult. I found parts of the book which addressed this rather uncomfortable reading.
The characters are really portrayed well in the book even if they are a little stereotypical. Nikolai is the eccentric old gentleman who is quite clever about some things like writing about tractors but whose common sense goes straight out the window when faced with the busty blonde Valentina.
Valentina is quite a formidable character and you immediately start to dislike her. There is little to make you warm to her although later on in the book at times you do start to think about what drove someone to do what she is doing. However before you feel sorry for her the author is back with another terrible thing that she has done so you don't feel sorry for long.
I found some of the passages on the history of the tractors a little hard going at times and do have to confess to skimming through some of them. Some of them do have a hidden meaning and refer to some of the characters or situations in the book but others are just straight history.
There are so many sub-plots going on in this book. There is of course the main story which is the sister's attempts to get rid of Valentina, there is also the history of the tractors, the feud between Vera and Nadia and the history of their life in the Ukraine and the things that happened to the family there. So there is plenty going on to keep you occupied as you read it.
I did enjoy reading this book and had it finished in one weekend, you just want to keep reading it to find out what happens. It's an interesting story, not as funny as I expected or not quite the humour I expected however I am glad I read it.
Currently on sale in Amazon for £5.59
Pages - 324
An elderly gentleman gets tangled up with a well endowed Ukranian asylum seeker who is only out for his money.
At least this is what he is daughters think. They don't get along very well butt hey get together to stop
There are a lot of characters in this book including the pub landlord and the buxom ladies' son, not to mention the relative she brings over from the Ukraine. (Don't want to spoil the story here.)
The book is written in a very readable style and the author knows how to tell a good tale.
It's witty and funny in parts, yet all the characters and events are completely believable.
Author Marina Lewycka takes her title from the father's passion for tractors. He is almost obsessed with them and is writing a book about them.
Every so often she refers to the way he keeps going back to the book and includes short excerpts from it in her narrative.
This actually works very well and gives a thread that seems to hold it all together.
I could imagine how the father looked especially when they worry about him looking weak and frail and his lover literally jumps out of the page as you read.
Marina Lewycka is a talented author and I look forward to reading her second book 'Caravans ' , which, incidentally, was her first book but they were published in reverse order.
I must admit that I was put off by the title for a while. I had picked this book up in Waterstones a couple of times. Then I started talking to a member of staff in the shop who recommended the book.
I wasn't disappointed. It has such a dull sounding title but the book itself is far from dull.
Worth a read if you haven't done so yet. Fun, serious in parts but strangely memorable too.
Title: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
Author: Marina Lewycka
Warring sisters Vera and Nadia unite when their elderly widower father (Nikolai) announces he is to marry a young, blonde, well endowed Ukrainian woman who is seeking asylum. Despite their best efforts, their father marries the dreaded Valentina and the plot follows the chaos that ensues. There are also chapters that detail the history of Nadia's family as they move from the Ukraine to the UK.
The story is intersperced with chapters which are literally about the history of tractors in the Ukraine. Nikolai, who was an engineer, is writing a book about tractors which Nadia is translating into English for him. At first glance its tempting to skip these chapters and get back to the story but I would urge you to read them and see if you can spot the parrallels between the history of the tractors,the history of the Ukraine itself, and Nikolai's own history. I actually find it a very clever device.
The book is often described as "hilarious" and yes, it has humorous moments. But I found Valentina's treatment of Nikolai sad rather than funny.
The most outstanding character is by far the buxom bosomed Valentina. She comes across as a mere caricature, with her big chest, high heels and fluffy pink jumper but its important to bear in mind we are viewing her through Nadia's eyes (story is in first person) and this is how she views Valentina. Its clear from the storyline there is more to Valentina - despite her awful treatment of Nikolai, she moved to the west in the hope of giving her son a better life and no doubt making a better life for herself aswell. The fact she is content with clapped-out old cars and cookers shows how simple a life she is prepared to live. Plus, at the end of the day, she is yearning for the same dream that Nadia's parents left the Ukraine for all those years ago.
he only thing I wasn't keen on was the way Valentina's broken English was written. It is clear - and understandable - that her English is poor but even though I have only dealt with a few Eastern Europeans through my work (including Ukrainians) I have never heard anyone speak remotely like Valentina. It can't be easy to write broken English but I didn't feel it read right. I just couldn't visualise Valentina talking like that. Valentina's son Stanislav is an important tool in helping the reader empathise with Valentina. She wants him to have a better life and go to "Oxford-Cambridge" as he is so intelligent.
Vera and Nadia are frequently described as "war baby" and "peace baby" as Vera was born at the start of WW2 and nadia at the end. Vera comes across as a hard and prickly person (again we are only seeing Nadia's perception of her) but through the tales of their family history we - and Nadia - come to see why Vera is the way she is.
Nikolai comes across as a rather daft old man but we know he was once an intelligent engineer so he clearly isn't stupid. He longs to "help" people which is why he has agreed to marry Valentina, under the disillusion that she loves him. Nikolai's past makes interesting reading as it shows what sort of a man he was in his younger days and possibly why he now feels an affinity towards helping fellow Ukrainians, maybe through guilt. He is also a sucker for nostalgia and seems to think taking Valentina to live with him would be like taking his motherland to him.
The story is in first person and seems to be quite a light, sparce experimental style which does work well with the story. Nadia can be irritating in places but I find the style is what holds everything together and is indeed more prominent than the plot. As I said above, the chapters on the history of tractors are closely related to the history of the family and of the Ukraine itself.
A great read if you want something experimental or a bit different or if you're interested in European history/sociology. It is funny in places but if you're looking for something humorous, bear in mind this book is dark in places aswell. Valentina's treatment of Nikolai is unpleasant and it doesn't make light reading. The book is short, just over 300 pages I think, so is good for a quick read. A lot of people will probably NOT like this book. If you just like a story written in a familiar style you might not be so keen on this.
Published by - Penguin
ISBN - 0-670-91560-2
Year - 2005
Price - £7.99 (paperback, new)
I don't necessarily have a favourite type of book. I'm more likely to go into Borders see what is by the door in the 3 for 2 section & then will check out the reviews on the covers. If they are appealing then the book is bought. So far this way of buying & enjoying books has worked for me; that is until now.
The reviews on the front of this cover promised "Extremely funny" The times "Outstanding" Daily Mail "Mad and Hilarious" Daily Telegraph.
These are all sources that I trust. In addition the reviews on this site are glowing with many crowns.
I cant remember the last time I picked up a book & felt like I was pulling teeth to get it finished. This book is supposed to be funny yet I haven't found myself laughing once - not even a wee laugh.
There are parts of the text that i even find myself bla bla blaing to and skipping as I cant take it any longer!
I'm not sure why I couldn't take to this book, maybe its the storyline that I just cant connect with; certainly it seems well written it just didn't grab me.
The basics of the story are that the main character Nadezhdas father decides to remarry 2 years after the death of his wife. His choice of bride is a 36 year old well made up "glamorous" blond Ukranian who also has a young son called Stanislav. She is demanding of her new husband in that she wants the western dream lifestyle of big car, private schools and new clothes. Nadezhdas has been on not so great terms with her sister over the years however a joint disliking to their fathers choice of bride brings the 2 together in a joint pack to rid them of this imposter.
Not for me I'm afraid, however plenty of people out there seem to love this book.
This is a humerous read. The main character is Nadezhda who is almost fifty and an University Lecturer. Centres on the family disasters that invove around her father. He finds himself another patner even though he is twentyfive years younger than him after their mother had died. She came from the Ukrain and was an divorcee and this brought memories back to him as he was there in the war.
This ukrain girl wanted to remain in Britain so what better solution than to marry this eightyfour year old man which would allow her to obtain a visa to stay in Britain. Nikolai Mayevsky was quite happy with the idea of marrying Valentina. He also was aware of the age difference and why she wanted to marry him. He like her company.
His daughters are very concerned about this.
Nadezhda who has another sister Vera but had fell out with her then got in touch with her and the rift started to heal as they both worked together to help their father to obtain a divorce from this Ukranian lady.
This is a family based novel and it describes how two daughters deal with the loss of their Mother and to cope with the elderly parents. You find that Nadezhda discovers more about her parents and Vera are sister. It also explains how an immigrant copes, experiences in the past and present day.
This is an interesting read I do not think I would have chosen this book but someone said I must read it and I have. I found in parts sad and thought provoking ,particularly about 'Old Age'
Sisters Vera and Nadia start to worry when their elderly father marries a well-endowed Ukranian asylum seeker who seems to be after his money. Although not on the best of terms themselves, they join forces to try and help him.
Tractors is one of those strange little books which crops up every so often, captures the imagination and slowly builds up a cult following. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a while now, so when my dad got hold of a second hand copy, I borrowed it for him.
It's easy to see why Tractors has attracted such attention, as it's a wonderfully well-written, entertaining book. The basic plot (warring sisters unite to save their father) will be familiar to anyone who has ever experienced any kind of family tensions, and this makes it very easy to identify and sympathise with each of the major characters in turn.
Author Marina Lewycka has a very readable style. Much of the book takes place through reported conversation, with little in the way of more traditional narrative. This gives the book a very natural, gossipy feel to it its almost as if you are there in the room with the characters, witnessing the events for yourself. Again. This gives it an instantly comfortable and familiar feel.
Despite the readable style, Lewycka is not afraid to play around with traditional narrative structure, giving the book a fresh feel.. So, conversations will be interrupted by the private thoughts of the narrator, or the story will suddenly be broken up by an excerpt from the father's master work on the history of the tractor! This is a brave decision, which could have backfired badly. Within the structure of this book, though, it works well and adds to the feeling of realism. This is, after all, the way people do speak and act in real life things don't necessarily follow in a logical sequence.
Too often, experimentation can lead to a disappointing plot or characters. Thankfully, this is not the case here. True, the plot is very basic, but it's this simplicity which makes it fun to read you don't need to worry about remembering who said what and why and when you can just get on with enjoying the story! At the same time, the plot is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading, to find out how it is all going to end.
Really, though, it's the characters which make this book so much fun to read. All the key characters are well-rounded and act in a very believable way. True, they are sometime over the top and exaggeration, but they are also very life-like in the way they react and interact. As I was reading the book, I was often able to bring to mind people I have know who might act in a similar way. This makes it very easy to identify with them and care about what happens. Importantly, all the characters are portrayed in a human and sympathetic light most of the time. It would have been very easy to make the Ukranian asylum seeker a nasty stereotype, of the kind so beloved of the Daily Mail. Lewycka is far too good a writer for this. Valentina is as natural and human as the rest of the characters and you definitely feel sorry for her at times. The fact that she is a Ukranian asylum seeker is almost an irrelevancy at heart, she is just a mother who wants the best for herself and her son. Whilst you might deplore the way she behaves, you can always understand why she does it.
What this all adds up to is a hugely readable, heart-warming tale of normal life. It's also very funny. At times, laugh out loud funny; other times it will have you smiling or smirking. Rarely will you be anything less than entertained. Part of this comes down to the way the plot progresses, which adds an element of soap opera/farce to proceedings. It's also down to the writing style of Lewycka, who has a definite way with words. In the tradition of fine writers, she can take a relatively normal situation and, with a few carefully chosen words, make it into an hilarious one.
On the downside, it starts to feel a little rushed at the end. Having taken a fairly leisurely pace throughout the book, it's as though Lewycka suddenly realises she's running out of pages in which to tie up the loose ends. In particular, the revelations about family history feel a little forced. For most of the book, we are drip-fed information discovering it as the younger sister does and seeing the pain that the revelations cause for those affected by them. At the end, we get a sudden deluge of family history all presented in one dose and covering several pages. This change in pace leaves you feeling a little overwhelmed, and much of the emotional impact which these revelations are supposed to have is lost.
The ending is also a little strange and won't be to everyone's tastes. It's curiously ambiguous and, to be honest, I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. It was, however, very much in keeping with the rest of the book, so at least it didn't feel stupid or artificial.
Overall, a couple of very minor gripes aside, Tractors is a fantastic little book. Well-written, entertaining, fun and heart-warming, if you've not already read it, pick up a copy. You won't regret it!
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
ISBN: 0-141-020525 (paperback)
Price: £7.99 (new from Amazon) second hand copies can be picked up for a few pounds
© SWSt 2007
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian is a cracking read: funny, touching and very realistic. It tells the story of Nadias, father, an 84 year old Ukranian immigrant who is getting married to a 36 year old busty blonde diva so that she can stay in the UK, and live the good western life. You can imagine the comedic episodes that transpire from that pairing! The one good thing to come out of this fiasco is the Nadia and her sister begins to reform their lost friendship, and Nadia learns about her parents and sister life before she was born. Ultimately the novel tells the story of Nadias parents past and their struggle to survive before reaching the UK, it makes the reader think about where they came from and the struggles their parents and grandparents faced just to survive. This novel is a quick and memorable read.
On first glance, this seems like an obscure, dry book. Nothing could be futher from the truth! It's the story of an elderly Ukranian widower from Peterborough, who marries a 'gold digging tart' aged 34 as a charitable deed, to giver her a better life than the one she has in the Ukraine.
His daughters aim to save him from the terrible mistake he's making - the novel actually revolves around his relationship with them and their relationship with each other as much as the ill-fated marriage.
My grandad is from Belarus and the novel really struck home with me, it touches briefly on them leaving their homeland due to the war and many other interesting themes.
It's billed as a comic novel, but is hard hitting in equal measures - definitely not a love story!
I highly recommend this book - and I believe it's based on the author's true story, with a few details changed - which makes it all the more interesting!
Nicolai is an 86 year old immigrant from the Ukraine, living in Peterborough, England, who has been a widower for about two years. The loss of his wife was a blow to him, but he has begun coping. One way is by writing his book - A Short History of Tractors. He's writing it in Ukrainian, of course, but he's also translating it into English. In fact, everything seemed to be going fine until he told his two daughters, Nadezhada and Vera, that he was getting married to a woman he'd just met, who was more than half his age, and who had a young son, and that they were on their way back to England from "Ukraina" for the wedding. Certainly marrying a woman to help get her and her son to England isn't a crime, especially with life so difficult in the Ukraine. And her son is supposed to be a genius - a superior education in England is something any genius' mother would want. Also, having someone around to take care of an aging parent can't be so horrid. So it seems there should have been few objections from his daughters. Everything will be fine, right? Well, not with a woman like Valentina, it won't!
This is how the book "A Short History of the Tractor in Ukrainian" begins and I can assure you, from there on in, reading this book will be nothing short of a bumpy ride. But that doesn't mean that this isn't a good book. In fact, I'd say that this is probably one of the best books I've read in a very long while, and here's why.
First of all, please don't judge this book by its title. As you can see from above, this book isn't a dry, boring, non-fiction account of the history of tractors. Its more like the history of a family in which plowing up of the surface is required in order to get to the rich, fertile truth beneath. Again, don't get me wrong - this also isn't one of those plodding family epics that spans generations. It is an account of a short period in one family's life that allows its youngest member to look into the past that's mostly been hidden from her. We all know that when things don't go the way we expect them to, we often look to the past to see if it holds insights or answers to today's problems.
Nor should you judge this book by its cover. I say this because there are quotes on both sides of the cover that talk about how funny this book is. I'm not saying that there aren't some humourous parts in this book, because there certainly are, and many that will make you giggle and guffaw. But when I took this book with me as travel reading, I was sure that it was going to be a very light and quick read. While it is a fairly quick read, it isn't totally light reading, since the complex family relationships and creative scheming of Valentina make the reader need to concentrate on what's going on. Still, I found all this to be in it's favour rather than to it's detriment. So what if a book that is being promoted as a comedy has some more serious bits to it? Certainly some of the funniest books I've ever read have also had serious passages included, and they didn't spoil the books for me. Perhaps having some conflict and weight helps make the funnier parts all that more enjoyable. That certainly was the case here for me.
Lets discuss the writing style. This book is narrated by the daughter Nadezhada (sometimes referred to as Nadia). In this case, the book is written as a type of journal or diary. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a new kind of "Bridget Jones", although similarities can be drawn due to the diary format, relationship problem solving essence and humour genre, but that's where the parallels end. "Bridget Jones" is, as we know, an updated version of "Pride & Prejudice" where "Tractors" is, I believe, a comedic autobiographical accounting of something that probably really happened in writer Marina Lewycka's life. I assume this is true since the character Nadia and author Marina seem to have similar professions, and a quick look at other books written by Lewycka show a series of Career Handbooks in the Social Welfare field, and this is Marina's only book of fiction. Also the feel of this book is more analytical and historical than the self-centered feel of "Bridget Jones". Nadia is looking for a solution to a problem with her father, hoping to find out why she has such a problematic relationship with her big sister, and gain some insight into the family history she was too young to understand, or not yet around to witness. Bridget is looking for good employment, self-improvement and love. Nadia is a successful professional but Bridget is a wannabe journalist. All this makes the language of "Tractors" far more sophisticated, and the humour far more intellectual than "Bridget".
But that doesn't make this a high-brow book at all. In fact, while it is a more literary book than "Bridget Jones" it is still a vastly enjoyable read, which I found totally charming and quite a fast read. The characters are vividly drawn and we find ourselves relating to them in a very real way - not with any blank like-dislike fashion, but rather we find things to dislike in those characters we like, and things to like in those we don't. This means that the people in this book are very much like those people we know in real life - no one is perfect, nothing is simply black or white, things are subtle even when they're being obvious. This is probably why I feel this book is taken from real incidents, since only a few, very experienced, novelists can evoke that from their characters and this is Lewycka first novel. Of course, she could just be a literary genius who has been hiding under her non-fiction works for all these years, but I have my doubts about that.
This doesn't mean I wouldn't pick up another book of fiction by Lewycka, because I certainly would. In fact, if this is the beginning of her literary career, then she's already got at least one fan waiting in the wings for he next novel. All-in-all, I cannot recommend this book more highly and will be giving this a full five stars.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © September 2006
Available on Amazon.co.uk for £3.99 in paperback, and via their marketplace from £1.20. Also available on audio CD (£12.99) and in hardcover through the marketplace.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (2 Mar 2006)
For years, Nadezhda and Vera, two Ukrainian sisters, raised in England by their refugee parents, have had as little as possible to do with each other - and they have their reasons. But now they find they'd better learn how to get along, because since their mother's death their aging father has been sliding into his second childhood, and an alarming new woman has just entered his life. Valentina, a bosomy young synthetic blonde from the Ukraine, seems to think their father is much richer than he is, and she is keen that he leave this world with as little money to his name as possible. If Nadazhda and Vera don't stop her, no one will. But separating their addled and annoyingly lecherous dad from his new love will prove to be no easy feat - Valentina is a ruthless pro and the two sisters swiftly realize that they are mere amateurs when it comes to ruthlessness. As Hurricane Valentina turns the family house upside down, old secrets come falling out, including the most deeply buried one of them all, from the War, the one that explains much about why Nadazhda and Vera are so different. In the meantime, oblivious to it all, their father carries on with the great work of his dotage, a grand history of the tractor.