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A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian - Book Review

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by Catherine Van Bergen (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer who lives on the Bellarine Peninsula. I enjoy finding new things to see and do in the beautiful area that I live in. I'm also a booklover- see my reviews at
Published April 20th 2012

Aren't families funny?

One minute you can be having the feud of the century with your 'beloved' sibling, and then, seemingly in the next breath, you're joining forces with your one-time foe in order to defeat an even greater enemy who threatens you both.

Such is the case with the two sisters, Nadezhda and Vera, in A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian. In this entertaining novel, the women put aside over two years' worth of a bitter inheritance dispute, in order to save their widowed father, Nikolai, from a money-hungry, gold-digging Ukrainian woman named Valentina.

Being an old, possibly senile man, who only wishes to help out a fellow countrywoman who has fallen on hard times, Nikolai, at eighty-four years old, wishes to marry Valentina, a 'glamorous' blonde thirty-six year old, and help her (and her teenage son Stanislav) become British citizens.

Of course, this idea is completely abhorrent for Nadezhda and Vera, who realise that the scheming Valentina is taking their father for a ride, and they soon join forces to try and remove her from their father's life. But like all conniving crooks, she isn't going to leave without causing as much trouble as possible, and it's up to the sisters to put aside their differences and work together to oust the new woman in Nikolai's life.

This novel, while entertaining, also takes readers on a journey of discovery- as Nadezhda learns about old Ukraine and her family's life there before she was born, we also learn about the hardships that her family suffered through, as the Ukraine sought independence from Russia. We also learn, through Nikolai's experience as an engineer, the significance of tractors in the Ukraine, hence the title of the novel.

Lewycka also brings into question the topics of racial tolerance and immigration, and comes back to them time and time again throughout the narrative. While Nadezhda tries to remain optimistic about Valentina's motives for marrying Nikolai, she can't help but see her as a slutty gold-digger who is determined to experience Western life in all its (expensive) extremes.

Even as Nadezhda tries to remind her sister that their family also immigrated to England for the chance of a better life, she can't help but be repulsed by the methods in which Valentina tries to claim citizenship (and the sisters' future inheritance). In this aspect, the novel really makes you consider whether you, too, have similar thoughts when it comes to people trying to cheat their way through the immigration process, as opposed to people who have worked hard and sacrificed much to become citizens of another country. Very thought-provoking stuff!

Whatever the case, A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian is sure to make you laugh as you navigate your way through the turbulent times of Nadezhda and her family, against the voluptuous Valentina. While it may take some time to get used to the way that Nikolai speaks (his voice- as well as those of the other Ukrainians in the story- is represented through the use of broken English), you will more than likely enjoy reading this highly original and amusing literary treat.
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Your Comment
I loved this novel Catherine, especially the relationship between the two sisters, and the father's blind infatuation with Valentina. I found it so enjoyable that I went on to read We Are All Made Of Glue, but found it far less entertaining.
by Sandra Lawson (score: 3|1280) 3439 days ago
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