A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

I can fully appreciate why this book has won a prize for comic fiction. It was funny, exciting and overall, a pleasure to read. It was a book from a selection of novels that my mum bought from a local bookshop that was sadly closing down and at first I hadn’t given it much attention. It’s bizarre title had me puzzled, but it sparked my curiosity and I’m glad that it did.

I haven’t read many novels that fall under the category of ‘comic fiction’ and I’m not quite sure how to review it as such. I did really enjoy reading it. It is light-hearted and easy to read, a contrast to some of my other recent reads, but it also touches on the sensitive family history about living in Ukraine under Stalin’s rule and their escape to England. It has an underlying seriousness which ensures the book is funny but not flippant.

The storyline itself is pretty funny: an eighty-four year old widow marries a thirty-six year old Ukrainian divorcee seeking to extend her UK visa, and his daughters, both older than his new wife, are left to sort out the ensuing dramas. I thought that the novel was intelligent and mindful of the realities of family life. For instance, the way the younger daughter, Nadezhda, swung between sympathy and frustration at her father portrayed how I imagine you would feel if you had to deal with the manipulation of the new wife, countered by the utter stubbornness and helplessness of the father. This see-saw of emotions made it more hilarious because the slightly far-fetched plot became believable and I felt I could easily imagine the eccentric grandfather (perhaps more so because I can relate it to my own idiosyncratic grandmother!). I think this believability in the characters is what makes the book so good and what Lewycka does so well; you can picture every detail of the characters right down to their accents and mannerisms.

I loved the humour created by the relationship between the sisters. The narration by Nadezhda was witty and her speech followed by an opinion in brackets often made me laugh out loud. This colloquial and casual style worked really well to create comedic effect and made it enjoyable to read something a bit different. Her opinion of her sister, Vera otherwise referred to as ‘Mrs Divorce-Expert’, was also amusing and I could empathise with the love between them, tempered by the way they each knew how to irritate the other.

‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ is a really good read which perfectly captures the inner workings of a family; sometimes totally crazy but a representation of how a family has dramas that don’t always make sense to anyone outside the family circle – occasionally not even Nadezhda’s husband! This book would be great as a holiday read, I would definitely recommend.

short history of tractors in ukrainian

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