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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian: A Novel Hardcover – March 17, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 186 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The premise of Lewycka's debut novel is classic Viagra comedy: a middle-aged professor's aging and widowed father announces he intends to marry a blonde, big-breasted 30-something woman he has met at the local Ukrainian Social Club in the English town where he lives, north of London. It is clear to Nadezhda and her sister, Vera, that the femme fatale Valentina is only after Western luxuries—certainly not genuine love of any kind. Smitten with the ambitious hussy, their father forges ahead to help Valentina settle in England, spending what little pension he has buying her cars and household appliances and even financing her cosmetic surgery. In the meantime, Nadezhda, a socialist, and Vera, a proud capitalist, confront the longstanding ill will between them as they try to save their father from his folly. Predictable and sometimes repetitive hilarity ensues. But then Lewycka's comic narrative changes tone. Nadezhda, who has never known much about her parents' history, pieces it together with her sister and learns that there is more to her cartoonish father than she once believed. "I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel.
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From The New Yorker

In this comic first novel, two estranged sisters living in England discover that their addled elderly father, a Ukrainian war refugee and expert on tractors, is planning to marry a young, enormous-breasted woman who sees his modest pension as her ticket to capitalist comfort. The sisters put aside their differences, and embark on a spirited campaign to save him from boil-in-the-bag dinners, slovenly housekeeping, and such extravagant purchases as a broken-down Rolls-Royce. In the midst of these machinations—which include long-winded letters to solicitors, venomous gossip, and all-out spying—Lewycka stealthily reveals how the depredations of the past century dictate what a family can bear.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1st ed edition (March 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200440
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,397,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I picked up Marina Lewycka's "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" almost by accident. The title attracted my attention so I picked it up and began reading. After reading the first three sentences, I was sold. They are: "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond 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 sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside." The concern I have with books that begin so well is the difficulty the remainder has in living up to such promise. I am happy to report that Ukrainian Tractors lived up to the promise of its opening paragraph.

The opening sentences sum up the story. Nikolai, his wife and two children Vera and Nadezhda (Nadia) were Ukrainian refugees who, at the conclusion of the Second World War make their way to Peterborough, England. Vera was born before the war and has memories of the families' travails in German work camps. She is the "war baby." Vera is the basic domineering know-it-all older sister. Nadia is the peace baby, a liberal sociology lecturer with a penchant for buying her clothes used at the local Oxfam (charity outlet). Nadia and Vera have not talked since their mother's funeral. Nikolai picks up he phone one day and announces to Nadia that he is about to take a new bride. Valentina is a young, buxom bottle-blonde Ukrainian whose U.K. residency visa is about to expire. As expected, Vera and Nadia call a truce in order to prevent the marriage and protect their father from a fate they consider worse than death.
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Format: Paperback
Rumours have it that Marina Lewycka's first novel was initially placed under "agriculture" on the book shelves. Ukrainian tractors don't sound like a good topic for a highly enjoyable reading experience. Yet it is! While a history of tractors features in the narrative as a sub-stream, the story really is about family - history and complex relationships across generations and cultures. All those elements are packaged in a vivid, yet easy-going language, filled with humour and gentle satire.

The story is set in the Ukrainian immigrant community in England and centres around Nicolai, a 84 year old widower who has set his eyes on a thirty-something, full-bosomed blonde Valentina, a would-like-to-be immigrant. His intention to marry her gets his two daughters onto the scene, anxious to stop such a mismatch. Despite their intense efforts and intrigues, however, their attempt to obstruct doesn't succeed. "She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade..." Written from the perspective of Nadia, the younger of the two daughters, and through her discussions with "Big Sis" Vera, the reader follows the upheavals that this new reality in their fathers' life creates. Suspicions are rife that Valentina has plans beyond looking after a new husband and that Nicolai is being exploited in more ways than one. The sisters themselves carry baggage from the past that they need to put aside or resolve in order to show a united front to their father's situation. In the process, events from the family history come to light that explain to some degree their different approaches to the problem at hand and different relationship each has had with their father and their late mother.
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Format: Hardcover
This isn't a particularly long novel, yet Lewycka manages to accomplish so much! The story-line itself is simple: two estranged sisters in England try to stop their aged father's marriage to a gold-digging Ukrainian woman. But the book itself is complex. It's one of the funniest books I've read in a long time, and there is joy, and yet there is also plenty of tragedy and grief. All of the characters are wonderful; even some of the minor supporting characters are fully realized people. And none of the characters are fully good or bad. The author even had me sympathizing at times with the gold-digger and the men with whom she had affairs. I think the book's greatest asset, however, is that it shows genuine insight into real families, and the sorts of complicated stories that families make for themselves. How many books can make you laugh, make you cry, and teach you about the history of tractors and the Ukraine, all in less than 300 pages?
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Format: Hardcover
Marina Lewycka is a writer of rare wit and brilliance who may have single-handedly resurrected the novel as an artform in her first little fiction. Only a novel could incorporate a twentieth century history of the Ukraine under Stalin, an evocation of immigrant cultural archetypes, a documentary on aging in the industrial west and tell it in Jane Austen-like prose that resonates with the humor of a Woody Allen movie. Did I mention that in engaging slivers of commentary, you get an interesting history of tractors - in English! Avoid the reviewers who cannot help but tell you about the engaging story of this novel - you can read it for yourself in your spare time in just two days - be a "reader" and tell your friends about this extraordinary novel.
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