Review : Marina Lewycka „ A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”
As you see, sometimes wishes come true very quickly - here is the review of the book I had presented in the last Wishful Wednesday instalment. I bought it and had it delivered in trully record time!
Once upon a time there were two middle-aged sisters and their elderly father, a widower, Nikolai. They had come from Ukraine but they inhabited a beautiful country called the United Kingdom, enjoying relative prosperity and peace of mind. Two years after the funeral of his first wife, though, Nikolai phoned the younger daughter, Nadezdha, and told her all of a sudden that he would like to remarry. “But Pappa, have you really thought this through?” asked anxious Nadezdha, finding out that her new prospective step-mother, a buxom blonde from Ukraine called Valentina, is more than forty years younger. Her father didn’t have any doubts - after all, he got to know his future wife well. He already elicited her views on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and she agreed with him in all respects. What’s more, she admired Constructivist art and despised neo-classicism, exactly like him. Her large-breasted figure made him salivate. How could you turn down such a lovely creature? Even if she is a divorcee, comes with a teenage son in tow and doesn’t speak English very well? Poor soul - she only tries to escape the abject poverty and rampant crime of her barbaric native country. As there’s no better candidate for marriage around, Nikolai feels it’s his mission to help Valentina. People should help each other, shouldn’t they?
Nadezdha, sensing danger, phones the elder sister, Vera. They haven’t spoken with each other since the burial of their mother when they quarrelled bitterly over money. However, the new situation forces them to cooperate. After all, Valentina’s goals are only too clear to them: she wants to trick their father into marrying her so she can stay with her son in the UK; she has already started wheedling him out of his savings. Unfortunately, poor elderly Nikolai is only too easy to touch – despite his eighty-four years (and maybe because of them) he can’t deny pretty Valentina anything. It’s enough for him to look at her ample bosom and he simply begs her to take everything he has accumulated over the years for a moment of fondling (not to mention, of course, those long discussions about Nietzsche and Schopenhauer…). He writes poems, he is in love and finally he marries Valentina in spite of loud protests uttered by the daughters on the phone. He is an adult man, he has experience, he knows what’s best for him, right?
Right. Be careful what you wish for because sometimes you can get it- this adage sums up the rest very well. As soon as the money of Nikolai ran out Valentina showed her uglier side, stepping into the role of an evil step-mother without second thoughts. She had demands, plenty of them, but every civilized human being has demands, don’t they? She wants to live in proper comfort, she must have a showy car, a fur coat, everything the best. Her son is a genius – he must be able to attend Oxbridge, it would be such a waste of his potential if he didn’t. Valentina works but she doesn’t pay any bills, she doesn’t clean Nikolai’s house, her cooking is inferior to that of his first wife. Even Schopenhauer couldn’t save the day. After some time poor Nikolai is in such a state that his daughters fear for his sanity and life -Valentina is not beneath beating and manhandling her weaker husband. Nikolai decides to divorce her but the process won’t be easy – the woman is tenacious and fully determined to achieve her goals. The situation becomes even more complicated when the former Ukrainian husband of Valentina visits Nikolai and finds his ex-wife…pregnant. Obviously the elderly husband has been cuckolded but who is the father? Will Nikolai be able to finish the book about tractors he started to write as a form of escapism from the ugly reality?
What I liked:
The pace of narration is splendid - this book is a real page-turner, although it deals with just ordinary lives of a bunch of immigrants. The sense of humour, sometimes simply uproarious, soothes even those scenes which you might have found disturbing otherwise. The characters are well-rounded and funny; even the evil Valentina is presented with a touch of humanity (and plenty of make-up). After all, in this book, as in real life, every cloud has a silver lining – even serious problems sometimes bring positive effects by forcing you to make decisions and deal with long forgotten issues from the past. Finally, like a good fairy tale, the story ends on an optimistic note- everybody finds their right place and lives happily ever after.
What I didn’t like:
I just have one “but” – the history of tractors itself. I do understand its role and meaning; nevertheless, I found myself tempted to skip those fragments as they were, in my humble opinion, a little bit boring. Especially compared to the rest of this delicious story.
The final verdict:
Definitely a position worth buying, reading and rereading many times!