A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Marina Lewycka)

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

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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