A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Marina Lewycka)

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is the first novel by Marina Lewycka.

Plot:
Nadia and her estranged sister Vera are the second generation of an Ukranian immigrant family in the UK. After their mother’s death, their father decides to marry again – and finds himself a much younger woman how obviously only wants to marry him to get a UK green card. Shocked the sisters unite their forces to stop this from happening and to save their father, who gets frailer by the minute.

I’ve heard many good things about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. My sisters, my mother, they all read and enjoyed it and the cover blurbs hail it as a comedy masterpiece. I have to admit I mostly failed to see the humor. But as long as I didn’t try to find the book funny, it was pretty good.

I really don’t understand why people would think this book funny. I thought the story – of this older guy who continuously loses control of his body due to his age and also shows the first signs of a failing mind, who tries to retain at least an ounce of dignity, control and independence from his daughters by marrying a much younger woman he hopes will take care of him and who instead starts to abuse him – was depressing as hell. Though my humor can be pretty dark, I fail to see the fun in that.

I mean, there were the odd turns of phrases that were funny and that I enjoyed, but this were only moments and did not make the tone of the book.

Also, I tried very hard not to see Valentina at the man-eating bitch from Eastern Europe, which is just way too one-dimensional and cliché, but Lewycka doesn’t really leave you any choice about that – every time you think that Valentina shows a bit of humanity, she turns around and does the next awful thing.

But apart from that I quite liked the book. Lewycka as a nice writing style and good pacing that carry you along neatly through the story. And she really has a hand for portraying the relationship between the two sisters – that worked very well for me.

Summarising: Very nice – as long as you don’t expect it to be fun.

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