Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Short of History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (Jill)

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
By Marina Lewycka
Completed January 24, 2009

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was indeed a history of tractors. However, this was also a story about the battles between parents and their children, manipulative romances and surviving the harshest of circumstances. This book with the clever name had many layers – some were good, some got old – but all fed into a delightful book.

At the surface, this book was about Nadia, her sister Vera and their aging father, who had fallen in love with a 36-year-old Ukrainian woman. Valentina clearly wanted to marry Nadia’s dad to ensure a British visa. Despite the daughters’ protests, the two married and shared a life of fighting, verbal abuse and general misery. Eventually, Dad (convinced by his daughters) wanted to divorce Valentina, but this became an enormous task. The ups and downs of their relationship hogged the story line, and after 100 pages, it became frustrating and burdensome. If it were not for the other themes in this book, I would have abandoned “Tractor History.”

Once I muddled (or ignored) the love/divorce story, I found layers that better fit my literary tastes. By spending time with her father and sister, Nadia discovered how her family immigrated to England from Ukraine after World War II. Nadia’s parents did not have an easy start to their marriage – either living in paranoia of Stalin’s purges or surviving a German work camp during the war. Through her family history, Nadia learned about the true meaning of survival, which made her father’s current drama seem so inconsequential.

I also enjoyed the short blurbs that were, in fact, a short history of tractors in Ukrainian. Nadia’s father was an engineer and an expert in tractors. Throughout the book, he shared snippets of his “short history.” These passages showed how technology, though intended to improve our lives, should not take over how we live.

Also, The "rights” of immigration were central to this book. Two sides of the immigration question emerged: people who emigrate to escape a tyranny and those who escape to better their lives financially. Nadia’s family was from the first camp, escaping Stalin, communists and Nazis. Valentina was from the second – trying to escape the financial chaos of Ukraine. Which one had the most “right” to settle into another country? Was one reason better than the other?

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was short-listed for the Orange Prize and became a bestseller around the world. I would recommend it to those who like to read about family relationships or Orange Prize books. For me, the love drama was a bit overdone, but overall, Marina Lewycka’s book is a good one. ( )

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