BOOK REVIEW: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This is a comedy of family dysfunction. The family consists of Cold War era immigrants to England from Ukraine. One adult daughter (Nadezhda) narrates the story, which about how her estranged relationship with her sister (Vera) is renewed through battle with a common enemy, Valentina, the gold-digging Ukrainian woman (younger than either sister) who’s moving in with the sisters’ eighty-four-year-old father.

There’re a few divides that generate the story’s tension. First, Vera grew up with war during her formative years, while Nadezhda was a child of the post-war peace. This informs how each sees the world and the other. Vera sees her younger sister as a naïve bleeding-heart socialist, while Nadezhda sees Vera as a cold and distrusting Thatcherite scoundrel. Second, there’s the chasm between established immigrant and new arrival, the former feeling that they kept their heads down, did the work, assimilated, and earned their status as citizens, while feeling someone like Valentina is tricking her way in and expecting to be handed all the perks of first-world living without working for them. Finally, there’s the gap between what a new immigrant expects life is like in a wealthy country, and what it’s actually like. Valentina has a television view of England that assumes the characters she sees are typical.

The story is funny, but occasionally poignant – e.g. as when we learn the family’s war-torn backstory or even when Valentina is shown in a more sympathetic light by our “bleeding-heart” narrator, who waivers between her family obligation self (who despises Valentina) and her socialist-feminist self (who empathizes with Valentina to some degree.)

I’d recommend this book for readers of literary fiction. It’s well-crafted and humorous. But it’s literary fiction, so if you need your characters likable and your plot strong, you may find it a bit dull.

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Cambridge Limerick

There was an outlandish student of Cambridge
who only had space for the tiniest fridge.
It all had to go -
milk and meat in the snow.
Turns out he liked his gin chilled just a smidge.

DAILY PHOTO: Munition Storage Area at RAF Woodbridge

Taken in 1988 or 1989 at RAF Woodbridge.

Taken in 1988 or 1989 at RAF Woodbridge.

This is the Non-Nuclear Munition Storage Area at RAF Woodbridge. Those berms are the backside of storage bunkers where munitions were stored. Apparently, long before I was stationed here, they had had a small tactical nuclear storage area whose boundaries (not shown) were easily discernible in my time by the decaying remnants of  doubled fences, razor wire, a concrete guard bunker, and a tower.

Anyway, it was a source of great hilarity / headache that the local anti-nuclear groups refused to believe nuclear weapons were no longer present. They would occasionally try to break in to show that security was inadequate for (the non-existent) nuclear weapons. Occasionally, they would succeed–because there weren’t nuclear weapons  and so one airman–often on foot–provided security for the whole area, and nothing was line of sight because of the ubiquitous berms. It would take either a long time or a lot of noise to  bust into one of the bunkers and one would probably gain access to nothing more than small arms ammo or bomblets for A-10s. So the security risk was not particularly great (compared to tactical nuke storage.)

I preferred the “ghost hunters” that regularly came around over the anti-nuclear crowd, the former were a little more willing to accept evidence than the latter.

DAILY PHOTO: Piccadilly Circus, London

Taken 1989

Taken 1989

Imagine my dismay as a hayseed teenager to discover that Piccadilly Circus wasn’t really a circus at all. There was not an elephant or a trapeze artist in sight.

DAILY PHOTO: Buckingham Palace in London, England

Palace Guard

Palace Guard

I took this in 1989 or thereabouts. I think I just stumbled upon the changing of the guard (thankfully this has nothing to do with diapers) ceremony that day. How about those snazzy backpacks?