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A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by…
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A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Marina Lewycka, Sian Thomas (Narrator)

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4,4281891,107 (3.4)339
Ameise1's review
This is an amazing story with many subjects in it. Firstly, there are the lives from the 'first' family - two daughters, a mother (already dead) and a father. Their life started in the Ukraine during the second World War. It describes their life there and how they emigrated to England. One daughter was already born then - the war-baby - the other daughter was born in England - the peace-baby. The siblings have difficulties to get around with each other, especially the younger one who doesn't really know the past of her family's life during the war.
Secondly, after their mother's death their father (age 84) has married a young Ukrainian woman. She and her son were coming to England with a lot of hope for a better life. This young woman is asking for a huge amount of financial conditions which the old man isn't able to fulfil.
The old man is asking his daughters for help. Especially the 'peace-baby' is helping him. It's a wonderful description how many difficulties there are when people marry outside their normal habit also when they were originally from the same country. ( )
  Ameise1 | Jul 7, 2012 |
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Loved this quirky little book! ( )
  frenchmama | Jul 23, 2014 |
What do you get when an octogenarian is intent on wedding a buxomous, gold-digging immigrant, whose romantic intentions are clearly only for the purpose of securing residency via matrimony. Throw in a pair of feuding sisters who have to forge an alliance to deal with the trials and tribulations of an aging parent, and of a marriage gone wrong, and you have a blunt (a little crass, but not obscene), oftimes funny pow-wow that makes for a deliciously delightful read. ( )
  MomsterBookworm | Jul 14, 2014 |
Apa yang akan aku lakukan jika salah seorang orangtuaku berniat menikah lagi seperti Nikolai, ayah si Nadezhda? Apa yang bisa aku perbuat jika orangtua tersebut menikahi seorang yang jauh lebih muda? Apakah keadaan ini akan membuat aku lebih dekat dengan saudara kandungku?



Novel ini sederhana, bercerita tentang kegalauan Nadezhda menghadapi ayahnya yang akan menikah lagi setelah ditinggal ibunya. Dia sangat menentang niat ayahnya dan mencoba bersekutu dengan saudari kandungnya yang juga menjadi musuh besarnya sepeninggal ibunya. Calon istri ayahnya juga jauh lebih muda, dan ketika perempuan tersebut jadi pindah dari Ukraina ke rumah ayahnya di Inggris, niat busuknya tercium juga, walaupun ayahnya tetap membela istri barunya yang seksi itu.

Mengikuti suka duka Nadezhda menghadapi ayahnya yang sudah agak pikun dan bertingkah kekanak-kanakan ini cukup asyik. Cara bercerita penulis sangat kocak, membuat hal-hal pahit menjadi menggelikan. Waktu membaca ini aku jadi bertanya-tanya, apa kalau aku tua nanti aku bisa berubah seperti Nikolai?



Novel ini benar-benar membuat pembacanya bisa tertawa-tawa sendiri, tapi isinya mengenai ikatan kekeluargaan, memberi maaf kepada orang lain, dan berbakti pada orangtua, sangat universal, terutama bagi orang-orang Timur, termasuk Eropa Timur rupanya! Bedanya, orang Asia seperti Indonesia tidak akan punya sense of humor setinggi orang-orang Eropa ini.. Maybe reading this book would change our attitudes? Semoga! ( )
  pwlifter300 | Feb 12, 2014 |
Brilliant black comedy; tragic, funny, sad, lovable and unlovable characters. ( )
  siri51 | Feb 7, 2014 |
Funny, moving, engaging, intriguing — great illustration of generations and cultures (Ukrainian/English — Wartime/Peacetime) colliding ( )
  dreamingbear | Feb 6, 2014 |
I enjoyed reading Marina Lweycka's debut novel "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" even though I didn't find any of the characters particularly likeable. The story itself was interesting and the characters were well-drawn so I still found it a fun read.

The story is narrated by Nadia, a Ukrainian immigrant who is not on speaking terms with her sister until their father remarries to Valentina, a much younger woman who is looking for a green card. The daughters reunite in their stand against the woman they view as a gold-digger who is destroying their father's life.

I can see why this book wasn't on the list of 1,001 books to read before you die for long. It isn't a stand-out story, though it was a good read. I would definitely read future books by this author, as I imagine her next books will be even better. ( )
  amerynth | Dec 22, 2013 |
A debut novel by Mariaa Lewycka, published in 2005 was on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die for a short two years from 2008 to 2010 when it was removed. Ms Lewycka, a British author of Ukrainian descent tells a story of two sisters who are not on speaking terms since their mother’s death. There elderly father’s tangle with an immigrant middle aged woman from Ukrainian brings them back together again as a family. One sister was born in the war; the other was born in peace time. The author, herself, was born in a refugee camp in Germany before the family immigrated to England. What I liked most about the book is the old man. I enjoy and appreciate stories that explore the joys and pains of growing old and this book surely does that. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
This was another one of my 'I really should have read this by now' books, and I'm glad I did.

For the first 100 pages or so, I was surprised that this was a début novel as the prose flowed so well and the story was tight and consistent. After that though, it did begin to flounder and the inexperience showed. Without giving anything away, once Lewycka moves the plot on it tends to get bogged down.
Thankfully, it's a very easy and quick read, so it wasn't a chore to get to the final third's denouement which is both satisfactory and heartfelt.

I would have loved to give it four stars (maybe it is time for Goodreads to implement the half star?), but any faults with this novel certainly would stop me from tracking down any of her subsequent releases.

Great for the garden or the beach or those annoyingly long commutes. ( )
  Kate_Ward | Nov 12, 2013 |
There is an episode in the comedy sitcom Mind Your Language, where Jeremy Brown's motley crew of students drawn from all over the world to learn English tell jokes to pass the time. Juan Cervantes, the Spanish bartender, tells a hilarious joke: at the end, he is in stitches, unable to stifle laughter, because the joke is so funny. The problem is, it is wholly in Spanish, so nobody else in the class can understand.

This novel left me feeling like one of those class members.

This is the story of old Nikolai Mayevskyj (pronounced "Mayevski"), eccentric immigrant engineer from Ukraine who falls in love at the age of eighty-four with a sex-bomb, Valentina, who is thirty-six. Valentina has the only goal of finding domicile for herself and her "genius" son, Stanislav, in the UK: and the recently widowed engineer is an easy target. Nikolai's daughters Vera and Nadehzda (the first-person narrator) are appalled, and set about rescuing their father from this scheming vixen, burying their running feud about their mother's legacy temporarily. In the process, a lot of dirty family laundry is unearthed, a lot of distressing events take place, but true to the tradition of comic literature, things pan out in the end.

If one believes the blurbs on the jacket, the novel is "extremely funny" (The Times), "mad and hilarious" (The Daily Telegraph) and "...a comic feast, a riotous oil painting of senility, lust and greed" (Economist). But I found it to be nothing of the sort. The deliberate comic tone of voice that the author adopted was jarring, in view of the fact that extremely serious matters like the abuse of the elderly was being described. You can't laugh such things off.

Also, there is the matter of portrayal. All the characters were seriously lacking in sympathy: there is hardly a one there the reader will care to identify with. Many of the conversations (especially where a kind of pidgin English was used to parody the Ukrainians' imperfect grasp of the language) were narrated in a tone of mockery - and when an author mocks her own creations, how can the reader take them seriously?

The book Nikolai is writing, A Short History of Tractors in the Ukrainian, is included as a sort of metaphor for the journey (historical, mental and physical) of the East European expatriate engineer, interested only in machines, from the communist East to the capitalist West. Nikolai's reading of excerpts of the book is interspersed with the main narrative throughout the novel, which though informative, failed to meld with the main story. The unspeakable horrors suffered by the family under Stalin and the Nazis somehow fail to make the impact they should, mainly because of the author's insistence on keeping up a comic tone.

However, three stars for a worthwhile story, and a social problem well-presented. But one is forced to think Ms. Lewycka would have created more of an impact if the book was written in dead seriousness. There is nothing more distressing than a joke which falls flat. ( )
1 vote Nandakishore_Varma | Sep 28, 2013 |
This book is funny indeed, even though it has sad parts; also many are infuriating. All in all it's a good, easy and enjoyable read. It's the story of two sisters born in Ukrainia but brought to England very young by their parents right after the war. And it's the story of their father, an 85 year old Ukrainian airplane engineer who worked on a tractor factory in Ukrainia. The story begins with the father,Nikolai, announcing to one of the daughters, Nadya, that he is getting married. His wife of 60 years had just died two years before, and the bride is none other than a 34 year old Ukrainian, who is married with a son, and wants to get married to Nikolai so she can get a British passport. From this point, the story hinges on the two sisters, who incidentally have been fighting between themselves all these years, trying to first stop their father from getting married and, after the wedding, trying to get him separated from the wife Valentina. They succeed in the end, after many funny incidents where many other interesting and shady characters intervene.

Interspersed in the novel are many paragraphs of the history of tractors that Nikolai is writing, in Ukrainian. So, if nothing else, the person who reads this book learns a little about tractors, John Deere, Ferguson, and other tractors that were prominent in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. ( )
  xieouyang | Jun 10, 2013 |
Funny, but bittersweet story about what happens to a family when the 85-year old father decides to remarry - a 36 year old divorcee from the Ukraine. This story especially touched me because of the similarities between the father and my own. (No 36 year old wife, but an immigrant who is passionate about engineering and the losses that come with aging.) ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |

This book was fun, although occasionally it drove me crazy. The British woman who narrates it is the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, and the novel mainly centers on her father, after her mother’s death. So he acts a bit nutty? What does that mean? Is he a genius, nuts, or just a lonely old man? The novel borders on farce at times, as the narrator’s father marries a surgically-enhanced blonde from Ukraine in order to help her immigrate.

All the characters are a little off the wall, but somehow quite believable. The relationship between the narrator and her older sister (a war baby, born in Ukraine) is sensitively drawn.
( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 25, 2013 |
This book explained too much when no explanation was necessary, and explained too little when there was much that should have been said. There were also chronological issues throughout-- it went back and forth in time, but in a way that made the novel seem haphazardly-organized. I understand that going from present to the family's past is an integral part of the novel, but it was done so abruptly that I couldn't appreciate it, and there didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to when it sprung up in the context of the present-day setting. I had been looking forward to reading it for some time, it being recommended to me based on supposed similarities with my favorite book, but unfortunately it did not live up to its expectations. It was, however, humorous at times. ( )
  lizmcglynn | Apr 10, 2013 |
I read this primarily because I loved the title. Not the best thing I've ever read -- the first 2/3's is a lot of depressing family squabbling, but the end picks up as it dwells more on family history. ( )
  ELiz_M | Apr 6, 2013 |
“A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”
by Marina Lewycka

Where we to spend 30 to 40 years of our lives without meeting a single Ukrainian, and be unaware that their communities are dotted about the country, the revelation of their existence would come as little surprise. We've heard tell of Somali social clubs going back a century, personally we know shed-loads of Poles, we sit next to Brazilians on the bus or train every day. The UK is a peculiar sort of place. Funny, too. Its native humour is interlaced with the self-parodies of the Pakistani, Yahudi, Italian, Chinese and German types who over the years have made it their home. Such diversity began long long before the post-war immigration boom, by which time the UK already had its panoply of national stereo-goons: the Welsh teachers, Canadian adventurers, Irish nurses, Australian sheep farmers, English toffs, Caribbean sailors and Scottish housekeepers. So if now we've got Ukrainians too, it figures.
When people say, as they do, there's something very English about... and then go on to yak about something that is not at all English indeed, we nod and accept these as facts because so often there's truth in them. There's something very English, we say, about the Turkish kebabs on every high street, just as there's something terribly English about curry. There's something quite English about trusting a plumber because he's Polish, well they do work harder and invite you to haggle if you think they're overcharging. There's something absolutely English about the rise and fall of the Asian mini-mart; and then campaigns to save our Chinese laundries, Italian ice-cream parlours and French onion sellers are just about English as you can get. Though the English invented class snobbery, there's something utterly English about the young aristocratic lady in Downton marrying the Sinn Fein chauffeur.
Therefore, to say there's something very Engish about “A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian” is not to annex beetroot soup, fur-lined caps or Natashas with embossed fingernails for the British Empire. It's to say that this story of Ukrainians in Peterborough is an archetype in a post-modern world of which the UK has become capital. Of course, apart from the Crimean War (1853-5) a while ago there was little to connect Britain with the former Soviet Republic, and what is least English about the book is how the Mayevskyj family became slave workers under the Third Reich, then refugees after World War Two. The British were not overly concerned in the tragedies that befell former provinces of the Romanov empire, preferring to mop up after the Ottomans. Things began to change after the fall of Poland in 1939. In the seven decades since, it's fair to say that population-wise Britain has become the most European of all EU members, leaving aside its aloofness from the Euro project. What distinguishes the UK is not simply the sheer number of emigrés it has absorbed, but their diversity and the endurance of their cultural values. With alacrity, the UK celebrates its very own Hungarian bean-fests and Romanian Independence days.
“A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” is the story of how a septuagenarian engineer, Nicolai Mayevskyj, betroths a thirty-something Russian divorcée from the Ukraine, Valentina, and what his daughters Vera and Nadezhda - our narrtor – go through. It's partially a comic novel with the line “I have a cunning plan” - Baldrick's catchphrase from “Black Adder” - repeated no less than three times. The fun-poking at Nokolai's one-foot-in-the-grave search for companionship and Valentina's boil-in-the-bag modernity is interspersed with chunks of family history, sibling rivalry between Vera and Nadezhda, and memories of their dead mother. Actually, though the writing never ceases to be light, it is seldom lightweight. Through the medium of English and English slapstick, things Ukrainian and Russian are presented effortlessly and with charm. Whenever the action descends into parody and farce - over Pappa's “squishy-squashy” impotence for instance - the narrative takes a sudden twist and we're treated to a chapter from his on-going manuscript history of Ukrainian tractors.
Marina Lewycka's use of tense is subtly done. Most of the action is told in present tenses, which gives the story-telling a button-holed, in-your-face quality. Some writers, Andrew Miller for example, carry the use of present tenses to extremes. Lewycka, however, frequently reverts to past tense narrative, sometimes even in the same scene, and once again the effect looks effortless. I had only a few quibbles with the text; sometimes there were double line-breaks between paragraphs in the same scene and I couldn't see why. Also, as with the Baldrick line, there is occasional over-use of repetition: “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” pops up two or three times more often than originality demands. And occasionally you get lines which could only be of benefit to non-native speakers, for example: “Now he is spent up – he has no money left.”
This is an easy and rewarding read which leaves me feeling intrigued and keen to read on. If I ever come across the volume advertised on the back cover - “Caravans” - I'd certainly consider buying it, if only to see if Lewycka extends her reach, or branches out beyond the world of Ukrainian emigrés. ( )
  Philip_Lee | Apr 1, 2013 |
I didn't really warm to this one. Ah, well... can't win 'em all! ( )
  IvyAlvarez | Apr 1, 2013 |
I forgot I haven't written a review of this yet - soon ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
If you don't know, the title is not much of a clue as to the contents. There is a book with this title, and it is every bit as dull as the title may appear, but it features in this book as it is being written by the elderly widower father in the family. His wife died & the two daughters haven't spoken since their mother's funeral. When he announces he's going to marry a woman from the Ukraine who is much younger than him, the daughters begin to overcome their differences in order to protect their father from the gold digging new wife. At times, it is a bit slapstick & stereotyped, but at others there are real emotional passages on the interactions of families and the impact that hardship has on people's views of life. The daughter born in war has a much different upbringing and experience than the daughter born in peacetime. Neither is wrong, but each is very much a product of their experiences. A interesting survey of the family dynamic and how children perceive their parents, even when they are no longer children. And I know a little more about tractors than I did... ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Read the book in two sittings today: on my to and from Utrecht, where I had classes :-)

I loved the book. Very catching, felt like I was reading about true people instead of reading a book of fiction. From what I understand this book is at least partially autobiographic.
The dad was a character that I felt sorry for, partially because he is old, lost his wife, had had already so much to endure. But then Valentina. I hated her. Once I came across such a person, unfortunately also from the Ukraine, who did wrong to my parents and this book brought back memories of that.
The parts about the tractor I skipped after the first one (luckily there were not so many), I did not enjoy that part of the story.
I'm glad that the book had the ending that it did: all had the things they wanted and were more or less happy. Somehow that ending fitted this book. (Usually I hugely dislike very crafted happy endings....) ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Mar 31, 2013 |
Ultimately, a rather disturbing and tragic novel that is superficially about elder abuse, and more abstractly about the legacy of culture-wide trauma. Themes include reconciliation/redemption (of the kind that makes it a contender for Oprah's Book Club), connection and disconnection, stinginess and generosity, optimism and fear, and innocence and cynicism. It nicely illustrates how position in a family influences one's perspective on the family, as well as the oblique ways that family history is conveyed.

At times the narration is too self-conscious and at those points the book reads too much like a horrible Borat/Everything is Illuminated pastiche of goofy fractured English utterances from those wacky foreigners. It's certainly a fine first novel, however, and many sections are very enjoyable to read. The ending is particularly moving.

If I were in high school, I'd go on and on about who or what the tractor of the title represents. Lucky for you, I'm not. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
If you've heard that this book has been nominated for all sorts of prizes you might be expecting something different; but if I tell you it reminds me of Anne Tyler or Joanna Harris you might not be disappointed and might even be a little surprised at the steel edge under this tragi-comic family story. ( )
  Phil-James | Mar 30, 2013 |
This is an amazing story with many subjects in it. Firstly, there are the lives from the 'first' family - two daughters, a mother (already dead) and a father. Their life started in the Ukraine during the second World War. It describes their life there and how they emigrated to England. One daughter was already born then - the war-baby - the other daughter was born in England - the peace-baby. The siblings have difficulties to get around with each other, especially the younger one who doesn't really know the past of her family's life during the war.
Secondly, after their mother's death their father (age 84) has married a young Ukrainian woman. She and her son were coming to England with a lot of hope for a better life. This young woman is asking for a huge amount of financial conditions which the old man isn't able to fulfil.
The old man is asking his daughters for help. Especially the 'peace-baby' is helping him. It's a wonderful description how many difficulties there are when people marry outside their normal habit also when they were originally from the same country. ( )
  Ameise1 | Jul 7, 2012 |
I was drawn to the quirky title of this book when it was first published, but didn't commit to reading it until it was nominated for both the Booker and the Orange prizes.

In short, the narrator, who is the English daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, is alarmed when her elderly widowed father announces he's marrying a 36 year old bombshell, newly arrived from Ukrainia. She, of course, turns out to be a nightmare who is in search of a British passport and as much material wealth as she can grab. Or is she just trying to pull herself out of a culture run by criminals, and trying to make a better life for herself and her teenage son?

Many people, including the critics that wrote the blurbs used on the book's cover and marketing materials, rave about how hilarious it is. I really didn't find it very funny, in fact, a lot of it made me quite uncomfortable. There were some horrible things going on, and they weren't funny. There is one point around three-quarters of the way through where the narrator says she can't take all the aggression, and that's exactly how I felt about the whole book. Too much bickering, too much unpleasantness. The only character I actually liked was Mike, the narrator's husband, and his role was minor. Although this isn't a terrible book, and I can see some of its merits, I just didn't like it.

Okay, there was one thing I found funny. A newborn baby is named after Margaret Thatcher. That was funny.

Recommended for: Readers who follow the Orange and Booker prize nominees, people interested in the issues of immigration in the UK. ( )
  Nickelini | Jun 2, 2012 |
Funny
  nickrenkin | Mar 26, 2012 |
Marina Lewycka’s, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, is a beautifully written novel about the human spirit and its indomitable need to survive. For, “to survive is to win”. ( )
  BALE | Mar 14, 2012 |
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