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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

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Overview

When their recently widowed father announces that he plans to remarry, sisters Vera and Nadezhda realize that they must learn to put aside a lifetime of bitter rivalry in order to save him. The new woman in his life is a voluptuous gold digger from Ukraine, fifty years his junior, with fabulous breasts and a proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, who will stop at nothing in her single-minded pursuit of the luxurious Western lifestyle she dreams of. But separating their addled and annoyingly lecherous dad from his new love will prove to be no easy feat - in terms of sheer cold-eyed ruthlessness, the two sisters swiftly realize they have just entered the major leagues. As Hurricane Valentia turns the old family house upside down, all the old secrets come falling out, including the most deeply buried one, from the war, the one that explains much about why Nadezhda and Vera are so different. In the meantime, oblivious to it all, their father carries on with the great work of his dotage - a grand history of the tractor and its role in human progress, giving due credit to the crucial Ukrainian contribution. The story carries us back to prerevolutionary Ukraine, through wartime Germany, to contemporary England, taking in love and suffering, tanks and tractors, bitchiness, sibling rivalry, and, above all, the joys of growing old disgracefully.
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Editorial Reviews

Susan Adams
Nikolai Mayovskyj is an 84-year-old widower, newly in love with Valentina, 36, a bombshell from the old country. "She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade," writes his daughter Nadezhda, the narrator of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, the charming, poignantly funny first novel by Marina Lewycka, a daughter of Ukrainian immigrants.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The premise of Lewycka's debut novel is classic Viagra comedy: a middle-aged professor's aging and widowed father announces he intends to marry a blonde, big-breasted 30-something woman he has met at the local Ukrainian Social Club in the English town where he lives, north of London. It is clear to Nadezhda and her sister, Vera, that the femme fatale Valentina is only after Western luxuries-certainly not genuine love of any kind. Smitten with the ambitious hussy, their father forges ahead to help Valentina settle in England, spending what little pension he has buying her cars and household appliances and even financing her cosmetic surgery. In the meantime, Nadezhda, a socialist, and Vera, a proud capitalist, confront the longstanding ill will between them as they try to save their father from his folly. Predictable and sometimes repetitive hilarity ensues. But then Lewycka's comic narrative changes tone. Nadezhda, who has never known much about her parents' history, pieces it together with her sister and learns that there is more to her cartoonish father than she once believed. "I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel. Agent, Bill Hamilton. (Mar. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ancient widower weds gold digger; daughters intervene; goodbye, gold digger. The old man who makes a fool of himself over a younger woman is a staple of the human comedy, and, in Lewycka's first novel, the old man lives in England, an immigrant from Ukraine like the author herself. Kolya Mayovskyj is an octogenarian, a retired engineer with a love of poetry, philosophy and tractors. His wife, Ludmilla, has been dead two years when he meets another Ukrainian, 36-year-old Valentina, and is enchanted by her winning ways and massive boobs. Valentina needs the right papers for herself and her teenaged son Stanislav, and as much of Kolya's money as she can get her hands on. The story is narrated by Nadia, one of Kolya's two daughters, a university lecturer with an English husband and child, though we learn little about them. The focus is on her father, the book he's writing (see title), his past in the old country, and her relationship with her sister Vera, ten years older. The sisters haven't spoken since a disagreement over their mother's will, but the common enemy Valentina draws them back together. Their rapprochement is strengthened once Nadia learns their family's darkest secret (the fight for survival, before she was born, in a German labor camp). Now the sisters contact lawyers and immigration authorities. Their father's marriage soon turns sour, and the frail Kolya's adoration of Valentina turns to fear as the promiscuous predator physically abuses him. Not that Kolya is unduly sympathetic himself, as flashbacks show him responsible for his mother-in-law's death back in Ukraine. He eventually agrees to a divorce, and another go-round of hearings and appeals yields little drama orcomedy, even with the extra fillip of Valentina's pregnancy (Kolya decidedly not the father). The deus ex machina is Valentina's former husband, newly arrived from Ukraine. Not enough here to reinvigorate an old, old story.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792745280
  • Publisher: Sound Library
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 6.96 (w) x 6.18 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Marina Lewycka was born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp at the end of World War II and grew up in England. In the course of researching her family roots for this novel, she uncovered no fewer than three long-lost relatives.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Two phone calls and a funeral

Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde 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.

It all started with a phone call.

My father’s voice, quavery with excitement, crackles down the line.

“Good news, Nadezhda. I’m getting married!”

I remember the rush of blood to my head. Please let it be a joke! Oh, he’s gone bonkers! Oh, you foolish old man! But I don’t say any of those things.

“Oh, that’s nice, Pappa,” I say.

“Yes, yes. She is coming with her son from Ukraina. Ternopiol in Ukraina.” Ukraina: he sighs, breathing in the remembered scent of mown hay and cherry blossom. But I catch the distinct synthetic whiff of New Russia.

Her name is Valentina, he tells me. But she is more like Venus. “Botticelli’s Venus rising from waves. Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts. When you see her you will understand.”

The grown-up me is indulgent. How sweet—this last late flowering of love. The daughter me is outraged. The traitor! The randy old beast! And our mother barely two years dead. I am angry and curious. I can’t wait to see her—this woman who is usurping my mother.

“She sounds gorgeous. When can I meet her?”

“After marriage you can meet.”

“I think it might be better if we could meet her first, don’t you?”

“Why you want to meet? You not marrying her.” (He knows something’s not quite right, but he thinks he can get away with it.)

“But Pappa, have you really thought this through? It seems very sudden. I mean, she must be a lot younger than you.”

I modulate my voice carefully, to conceal any signs of disapproval, like a worldly-wise adult dealing with a love struck adolescent.

“Thirty-six. She’s thirty-six and I’m eighty four. So what?” (He pronounces it ‘vat.’)

There is a snap in his voice. He has anticipated this question.

“Well, it’s quite an age difference...”

“Nadezhda, I never thought you would be so bourgeois.” (He puts the emphasis on the last syllable - wah!)

“No, no.” He has me on the defensive. “It’s just that…;there could be problems.”

There will be no problems, says Pappa. He has anticipated all problems. He has known her for three months.

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