Thursday, November 03, 2005

Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

I had some odd looks from people when I was reading this; apparently neither tractors nor the Ukraine are commonly given much attention in my social circles. I, of course, was reading it because it was longlisted (and should have been shortlisted) for the Man Booker.

The story was quite a simple one. An old fellow (Nikolai) is lonely after the death of his wife, and his daughters (Nadezhda and Vera) aren't much company - they rarely visit and don't get on with each other anyway. So, he hooks up with a woman (Valentina) from the old country (Ukraina): she, shockingly, is a buxom, blowsy 36 to his 84 who explodes into their 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".

If it was just your typical Russian bride scenario, then there wouldn't be that much to this, but Lewycka gives it much more depth. There is a lot of the history of the family, and the impact of WW 2 on them, which caused them to be uprooted from the Ukraine and taken to forced labour camps in Germany, where unspeakable things were done to the older sister. And, yes, there is a history of tractors - they are given credit for an economic revolution in the Ukraine, and the writing of the history seems to get more important to the father as things start to unravel.

But the central story is about Valentina and Nikolai - there is something skilful about a writer who gets us to see that Nikolai had fallen in love with Valentina, just as his daughter recognises he has as well. Naturally, the daughters initially see Valentina as a gold-digger, but through time, that view becomes more qualified, particularly for Nadezdha. Valentina has come into the UK with her own dreams of what to expect from her marriage, like a nice house and car - no Skoda!, and the reality turns out to be rather different. So, we see her processing the reality, and getting more and more disillusioned, but nonethless clinging to this chance of a new life. It is sad, but at the same time, Lewycka makes it into a darkly comedic tale, as we see Nikolai and his daughters uniting against Valentina's efforts to stay.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home