A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka – 5/10

“You she-cat-dog-vixen-flesh-eating witch”

Nadezhka discovers that her 84-year-old father, recently bereaved, has become enamoured of a younger local Ukrainian woman and decided to marry her to save her from deportation. Nadezhka and her sister Vera attempt to set their father right, and when they are unable to do so, must watch the ensuing domestic mismatch. They rail against their stepmother with ever more inventive plots.

For a book that has won comedy prizes (Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), this was bleakly un-humorous. I suspect that the comedy award was given on the strength of farcical descriptions – the image of Valentina tottering around the garden in her plastic high heels and heaving her enormous bosom about is quite funny, but the human tragedy of Nikolai’s situation, bereaved of a valued if not beloved wife, overwhelms the comedy.

The story of how the family came to England is actually a beautiful one and I wish it had been the centre piece of a very different novel. Similarly, the sisters’ petty heirloom battles and the attempts of the youngest generation to piece it together made for some interesting family drama.

Character development is cast aside in the pursuit of laughter – both sisters come across as embittered middle-aged women, Nikolai as a doddering old fool, a eminent (post-eminent?) engineer with incongruous fluctuations in his ability to make reasonable decisions, and Valentina as a witch with unclear motives. Perhaps my understanding of the Ukrainian emigrant psyche is insufficient to impose a pattern on Valentina’s behaviour – to me it appears cruel, haphazard and simply bizarre.

However, it can only be a condemnation of the relentless black comedy that I was willing the old man to die rather than endure any further nonsense from his daughters and partner.

Reviews by other bloggers: Jane of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

Additional info:

 

This was one of two personal copies I had. I think I bought them both in Notting Hill.

 

Publisher: Penguin, paperback, 336 pages.

 

Order this from Amazon*

 

* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka – 5/10

  1. BermudaOnion 6 August 2011 at 5:33 pm Reply

    It sounds like this one didn’t live up to its promise. Thanks for correcting me on my London photo!

    • readingwithtea 6 August 2011 at 5:50 pm Reply

      That’s quite all right! I like to be helpful to London tourists whether they’re physically here or not!

  2. Cori 8 August 2011 at 2:57 am Reply

    This one is sitting right next to me on my TBR shelf. It might move farther down on the list!

    • readingwithtea 8 August 2011 at 7:55 am Reply

      It depends very much on what you are looking for. From the blurb and the hype I thought this would be hilariously funny and was quite disappointed. If you go into it expecting some drama and a bit of comedy and you like farce as comedy…

  3. Sarah 20 August 2011 at 4:21 pm Reply

    This book was lent to me. With some embarrassment I eventually returned it, unread, muttering something about not managing to have found the time. Then I discovered it was on the 1001 list of books to read before you die and wondered if I was mistaken…

    Thank you for reassuring me on this score!

  4. My Day in Books | Reading Fuelled By Tea 26 December 2011 at 5:06 pm Reply

    […] then settling down for the evening, I picked up A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian […]

  5. Sandra 27 December 2011 at 12:04 am Reply

    Interesting. I Bookmooched a copy so I think I’ll read it anyway. Your dislike makes me curious, which usually happens with me. It gives the book a little extra something in the reading I find.

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