Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Nadezhda has a problem. Well, a few problems. She's still recovering from her mother's death two years ago, she is barely speaking to her older sister Vera, and now her 84-year-old father has dropped a bombshell; he is importing a young, buxom new bride from the Ukraine, his motherland. Her name is Valentina, and according to Pappa, she is an angel. All Nadezhda can see, though, are her father's home, pension, and minimal savings being sucked away by the opportunistic, big-breasted Valentina.

Nadezhda's efforts to get Valentina out of her father's life have some unexpected consequences. She's never seen eye to eye with her sister, but now they have something in common. Pooling their strengths and resources to evict the enemy from their mother's home, the sisters discover a way to see past their differences, and Nadezhda begins to piece together the story of her family's past. Slowly, she begins to understand some of the dynamics in her family as she learns about their wartime life in the Ukraine and the hardships involved in their trek to England.

At first I had mixed feelings about this novel; while it was charming, the characters weren't people I could really connect to or empathize with. Once I got into the book, though, I became intrigued by the situation that this family was in. I wanted to know what would happen. Would Valentina settle down and become a caring wife to her elderly husband during his final years? Would Nadezhda and Vera succeed in bringing about a divorce and having Valentina expelled from Britain by the immigration authorities? And what were the awful secrets buried in this family's past? Most importantly, would the slightly loopy Pappa ever complete his book, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian?

Finding out the answers to these questions made this book a satisfying read. If you're in the mood for a touching, occasionaly hilarious immigrant family drama, you might want to check this out.

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