A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

March 12, 2014 Book Club, Family 21

Privit Bookworms,

That’s a Ukrainian greeting right there, translated into familiar characters, because Ukrainian uses a whole different alphabet. It looks pretty cool, but I thought I’d avoid having y’all think I was hacked first thing in my post. Why all the chatter about Ukrainian? A book, obviously. Last month I joined The Book Wheel and Love at First Book in their book club. Their choice was A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.

tractors2The title is deceiving, kids! Very little of this book has anything to do with tractors. It’s actually a family drama. There’s this Ukrainian family that emigrated to England in the aftermath of WWII, see? They lived happily ever after… Or at least, more happily ever after than would have been possible if they’d stayed living under the thumb of a government employing a secret police and famine as a means of submission.

After a good long life, the mother of the family succumbs to cancer. Things start to get dicey when a few short years later, the elderly patriarch proposes marriage to a Ukrainian immigrant in her 30s who is obviously (at least to daughters Vera and Nadia) out for money and citizenship. It’s every bit as scandalous as it sounds, I promise.

I was pleased how quickly this book moved- it kept a good pace without feeling rushed. I found it to be an easy read, with an unexpected amount of humor injected into what could have been a wildly depressing story. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy myself nearly as much as I did. Yay for happy surprises, right?

It’s kind of ironic that I picked up this book now, you know? Ukraine isn’t ordinarily a country I’d expect to be popping up in the news, but there it is all embroiled in conflict. Sadness for all involved. However. I did learn something, thanks to Ukraine’s newfound notoriety. I have a Facebook friend who knows ALL THE THINGS about Russian culture. Anybody else out there have a knee-jerk desire to refer to Ukraine as “the” Ukraine? APPARENTLY, Soviet-era Russian newspapers popularized the phrasing “the” Ukraine in order to belittle the country. Grammar aggression? Low blow, guys.

 Tell me bookworms, have you ever been reading a book to have it suddenly become topical? 

21 Responses to “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka”

  1. Didi

    I read this one maybe 4 or 5 years ago with my book club. I thought it was a good book but I didn’t think it was funny, more like pathetic. That’s just me. Her other novel Two Caravans is still on my TBR and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe I should at some point soon.

    • Words For Worms

      … Now I’m beginning to wonder if I was supposed to find any humor in it… Or I’m just a terrible person? I got a sort of Wes Anderson vibe from it… I mean, the dad and his Toshiba apples… I don’t know. The ending seemed rather farcical as well to me.

  2. Megan M.

    Is “privit” pronounced like “preev-yet”? For some reason my brain went there and I have no idea if it’s right. And I DO want to call it “the Ukraine.” Those dastardly Russians.

  3. Darlene

    It’s interesting what you say about “The” Ukraine… because putting the “The” in front of it makes it sound, to me, more big and powerful. You know, like, THE Ohio State… instead of sounding belittled. But I guess that is my American culture mindset.
    I do have a friend that lives there, and I think she’d like to get home now.
    Red Tape, as always….

  4. Rhian

    I’m with Didi about not necessarily finding this book humourous. I remember being surprised when I was partway through and reading the blurb on the front stating it was hilarious.

  5. Joules (from Pocketful of Joules)

    I’m with you… my brain wants a “the” too.

    I’m pretty sure I can’t read this book because it would infuriate me. I’ve already told my husband that if I die he can’t marry some young, hot girl in my place or I’ll come back and haunt him. He’s okay with this.

  6. April @ The Steadfast Reader

    Grammar aggression. Uncool Russia, very uncool. (Not like we’d do it here EVER.. *cough* Freedom Fries, anyone? Perhaps I could dish you up some Liberty Cabbage? 🙂 … though I guess that’s more grammar passive aggression… ANYWAAAAY.)

    Um. Right, so the reason I was going to comment – what year of 1001 Books are you guys reading? This one isn’t on mine. (2010)

  7. Rebecca @ Love at First Book

    I know, it was just an interesting coincidence that we picked the book a month before we read it, and then all of this stuff happened in the news! It definitely made me more interested in the news and more sympathetic to the characters in the story.

  8. Melinda

    I really enjoyed reading this book! I think the short chapters also made it easy to move ahead – instant gratification, plus Valentina was a comic characters. She was as funny as she was nasty. I mean, her nastiness was funny. That sounds wrong…

    Loved the choice of book! Will be writing a review on it shortly too.

    • Words For Worms

      No, no, I totally get you with Valentina. She was just SO over the top. Her villainy was, at times, comical. Have you ever watched Two Broke Girls? There’s this ridiculous Polish woman played by Stiffler’s Mom (from American Pie, which you may not have seen, but I’m full of pop culture.) Anyway, that’s who Valentina reminds me of. Only meaner.

      • Melinda

        I didn’t follow Two Broke Girls, but I have seen it on tv more than once. PS: I know who Stiffler’s mom is, in fact I thought she was adorably dumb in Legally Blonde 🙂

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