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Review: “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” by Marina Lewycka

August 31, 2008

“Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.”

So begins A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (Penguin, 2006), a novel recommended to me by so many of our customers that I finally had to read it. What follows this intriguing first paragraph is the story of one family: two sisters who are constantly fighting and a father in love with Valentina (described above). The sisters, Vera and Nadezhda, are determined not to let Valentina take their mother’s place, yet their father refuses to see that there might be something off about his new match. As they agonize and scheme, they find themselves united against a common enemy as a cast of quirky but lovable characters parade through the novel.

I liked this book because, in a world where books about tragedy and overwhelming odds line the shelves, it’s not that serious. It’s more about the family’s troubles than the world’s, though we do learn the history of the family in relation to the history of Eastern Europe.

Lewycka has a second novel, Strawberry Fields, that was released in paperback in April. I’ve not read that one yet, but I plan to!

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