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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka Never before have I bought a book because of title alone. Plus, it was sandwiched between Nicholas Sparks (ughhh!) and "Eat, Pray, Love" (blerghhh!). I rescued it from this ghastly company and expected a grateful dose of funny in return.But instead of fun with tractors I got the above - the family squabbles, elderly abuse, well-hidden family secrets that nobody wants to unearth, the pent-up years of anger and frustration, and the misery of life. In a nutshell, it is a story of a very dysfunctional family, hiding its true nature behind the veil of dark comedy. "Our little exile family, held together by our mother's love and beetroot soup, has started to fall apart."To quote Leo Tolstoy, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". Narrated by a middle-aged sociology professor Nadezhda, this is a story of her small British family of Ukrainian immigrants which thrown into utter chaos by an unexpected arrival of a Ukrainian bombshell-tart Valentina, she of short denim skirts, high-heeled mules, Botticellian breasts, and an infamous green satin bra."Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. 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."The Mayevskij family has never been really happy. The father, obsessed with technology and "Ukrainianism", the feuding sisters, a mutual hatred between father and daughter, and the death of the mother who kept this little dysfunctional family together. All of this does not exactly spell harmony, even without the addition of an oversexed buxom blonde who is clearly after a British visa and not as much after the charms of a man five decades her senior. All for the following reasons:Valentina is ready for anything to obtain the coveted comforts of Western life that the Westerners take for granted. Can you blame her? Can you NOT blame her? But isn't the idea of comfort and security what we are all after at some point in life? The "funny" that I was expecting from the back cover blurb is more of a smile-through-the-tears and throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air-in-resignation kind than simple side-splitting laughter. After all, there is nothing funny about elderly abuse or the loneliness that comes with age. And there is nothing funny about the old grudges that tear families apart. And so I think the sad humor that Lewytska chose for her book works very well in setting the perfect atmosphere, which is definitely the strength of this story. The characterization is quite interesting as well. None of Lewytska's characters are quite likable; they are petty and vicious and often quite ridiculous - but you cannot help but sympathize with them, even the intended villain Valentina. The author accomplishes it well by always pointing out the other side of the story, the other point of view, the alternate take on the events. Caricaturish at first, Lewytska's characters develop, show new sides of their personalities and come to life in an unexpected way all while remaining surprisingly outlandish"My mother had known ideology, and she had known hunger. When she was twenty-one, Stalin had discovered he could use famine as a political weapon against the Ukrainian kulaks. She knew - and this knowledge never left her throughout her fifty years of life in England, and then seeped from her into the hearts of her children - she knew for certain that behind the piled-high shelves and abundantly stocked counters of Tesco and the Co-op, hunger still prowls with his skeletal frame and gaping eyes, waiting to grab you the moment you are off your guard."The chaos of the Majevkij family present-day life is interspersed with the exerpts from a titular book about tractors (in Ukrainian) written by old Nikolaj which shed some light on a sad history of Ukraine in the 20th century, as well as bits and pieces of the sad history of Nadezhda's parents and grandparents in the middle of wars, famine, and concentration camp. As expected, the dark secrets help Nadezhda grasp the origins of the peculiarities of her kin, and help her finally come to understand where the ultimate differences between herself and her seemingly obnoxious sister Vera are coming from - the War Baby vs. the Peace Baby."Doesn't she realise how time and memory fix everything? Doesn't she realise that once a story has been told one way, it cannot be retold another way? Doesn't she realise that some things must be covered up and buried, so the shame of them doesn't taint the next generation?"I did have a love-hate relationship with the writing. I loved Lewytska's ear for the characteristic Ukrainianisms in the speech of the characters. I did raise my eyebrows, however, at the predominance of Russian names in the family of the supposedly Russian-hating man, a mistake that a woman raised in Ukrainian family should not make. I did also notice quite a few instances when the first-person narrator suddenly became rather omniscient, giving us the emotions and feelings of the people she comes in contact with even though she has no way of actually knowing them. ------------------------------------------------------------------------Overall, this book gets a solid 3.5 star rating from me. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I liked the story, but could not overlook the writing flaws. However, I really like Lewytska's narrative voice, and I will definitely be on the lookout for her other works.