Monday, June 23, 2008

Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

A charming book that was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, this was really a delight to read. It is the story of two antagonistic sisters who band together to save their aging, and increasingly infirm and confused, father from marrying a grasping, bosom-y, bottle-blond Ukranian immigrant he’s only recently met at the Ukrainian Club. Nikolai is adamant that he wants to marry the blowsy Valentina, who is clearly only after him for his perceived money. Nikolai’s daughters, Vera and Nadia are horrified and embark on what starts out as a comedy of errors to make their father see the impossibility of this marriage. But the book turns darker as it becomes obvious that Valentina is not harmless, especially to Nikolai, and that she is quite cunning and capable of besting Vera and Nadia. But Lewycka is skilled in not making her character all black-hearted. She has made all of them believable and multi-faceted and very human. And as Nadia, our narrator travels through this impending marriage mess with her father, she learns more about her family history than she has ever really imagined. The story is really masterfully written. There is a light touch here that doesn’t hide the deeper issues but makes them less onerous for the reader to digest. As much as the ending was not a surprise, I am still looking forward to Lewycka’s next book and to the clever writing she displays here and hopefully carries over into her next effort.

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