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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Paperback – March 28, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Nikolai, of course, cannot help but contemplate blissful evenings in the warm embrace of his well-endowed faux-blonde soon to be illegal alien while he writes his book, a history of the tractor, the farm implement that changed the world.
Valentina makes for a worthy adversary and seems to best Vera and Nadia every step of the way. The comedy of the book turns a bit dark, however, as Nikolai's age and infirmities facilitate Valentina's increasing dominance over him. Her mental and physical abuse of Nikolai becomes apparent. At the same time, Lewycka takes us on a trip through the family's past. In the meantime, family ghosts and secrets begin to emerge. Root causes of the family's deep-rooted antagonism begin to reveal themselves as the story progresses. Events race on to a not altogether surprising conclusion.
I very much enjoyed "A Short History of tractors In Ukrainian". I was impressed by the manner in which Lewycka fleshed out the characters. Anyone who has been responsible for the care and feeding of an aging parent or grandparent will recognize Nikolai. One's pride is the last thing to go sometimes and when we see events beat the pride out of our loved ones we can almost see them shrink before our eyes. The two sisters also had a strong air of reality about them. I've seen each type in real life and I think Lewycka captures their essences well. Last but not least we have the Ukrainian bombshell, Valentina. By the end of the book I had no small amount of sympathy for Valentina. I could admire her work effort and her desire to make a better life for herself and her son despite her poor treatment of Nikolai. This is no easy task for a writer to accomplish. At the same time, her grasping nature, her dolled-up appearance, and her belief that ready-made food products were the western equivalent of high cuisine were downright hilarious at times.
There were a couple of spots where I thought the story dragged a bit or where some of the actions of the characters did not quite ring true. Some of the subsidiary characters seems a bit lifeless compared to Valentina and Nikolai. However, those relatively minor flaws were swept up in a story that was both charming and thoughtful.
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.
At one level Lewycka's novel is just a fun read, a family saga that shines with lively dialogue and witty comments on the reality of the lives of the central characters. At another level, she seamlessly integrates her reflections on aging and the needs and vulnerabilities of seniors and the challenges these present for the next generation to handle. Finally, through flashbacks into Nikolai's life, the author provides the reader with insights into the family's background that makes the characters into who they have become. Nicolai and Valentina in particular come to live in the story and one can find parallels to people we all know. All the parts are expertly joined so that these elements don't feel like overwhelming the primary storyline. A highly recommended book. [Friederike Knabe]
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I laughed all the way through.
The story is about a vulnerable old man who takes a new bride from the Ukraine.