Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A local book group is looking at A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka in November, so I picked up the household copy. It took a couple of goes to get past the first four pages, but once I got going, I steamed through in a about two flights and three bedtimes!

The basic story examines how two sisters – normally at loggerheads – deal with their aging widowed father and his young bride. All the main characters are Ukrainian refugees settled in England. If nothing else, you’ll be more aware of Ukrainian culture – and tractors – by the end of the book.

Although portrayed as a black comedy, you’d be better getting stuck into some Magnus Mills if that’s what you’re looking for.

Valentina – the young bride – is a buxom, pushy blonde who wants bigger, faster cars, and perhaps a more sprightly, energetic partner than Vera and Nadezhda’s father can provide.

By the end of the book, you’ll have felt sorry for all the characters. Perhaps the most moving part of the book comes near the end as some of the family’s history is exposed to the youngest daughter for the first time. Their war-time experiences - before Vera’s birth – have until now gone unexplained. Yet they go some way to explaining the family’s dynamic and the sister’s differences.

Tractors, Rolls Royces … I hope the book group select a better book for December/January. And although I’m glad there won’t be a sequel to this particular novel, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve read this year.



Anonymous said...

I couldn't even finish it Alan. I wasn't too impressed by it either, yet it was very highly acclaimed, won awards etc. Do you ever get that with books, that you look at the blurb and just shake your head, wondering what all the fuss is about. I felt the same way about 'The Curious Incident of the Dog...' which I thought was terrible!

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I'm loathe to not finish books. It has to be really bad before I completely give up. This one improved after a while.

Though speaking to someone last night - at the very excellent Good Fortune Chinese - they abandoned about two thirds of the way through.

I loved Curious Incident though ... though I wonder if his next book will be so good.

Different people, different views!

Thanks for adding yours to AiB.

John Self said...

And another differing view - I really liked it! It seemed to me to manage the rare trick of being light and airy, yet satisfying (like Nick Hornby at his best), and I did think it was funny, though quite a different beast than Magnus Mills. Here's my review from elsewhere.

The book is still riding high in or around the top 10 even though it came out over 18 months ago, and I think any book which sells in such huge numbers is bound to attract wildly diverging opinions.

While we're triangulating our opinions, I didn't like Curious Incident and am not much interested in reading his new one, A Spot of Bother.