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Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Again

And so, back to the beginning of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, which started with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

These books sit on the very top of that bookcase I featured in the first of these posts, above the shelves that contain all my (read) Scottish books.

Books Once More

They’re here because they fit into the space – at least in the case of the three “What If…” books, What If?, More What If? and What If America? – anthologies of Altered History stories – and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Then there is Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, Colin Greenland’s excellent Finding Helen, a Paul Torday, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, non-SF works by SF writers Brian Aldiss and Norman Spinrad, Robert Standish’s Elephant Walk and three books by Erich Maria Remarque including the incomparable All Quiet on the Western Front.

If I were filing my books thoroughly systematically these would all have to be moved.

A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Penguin, 2006. 326p

Tractors

This is an odd one. Two years after the death of her mother, Nadezhda Lewis’s father, Nikolai Mayevskyj, a British resident and 1945 refugee from Ukraine, takes up with Valentina, a much more recent – and much younger – Ukrainian with a young son. The book recounts the unfolding of this relationship, through marriage and subsequent divorce proceedings and the reconciliation it brings about between Nadezhda and her older sister, Vera, who had become estranged following shenanigans involving their motherĂ¢s will. Nikolai is also writing the eponymous “Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian” extracts from which are doled out throughout the book.

This is all treated in a knockabout style and the characters are well delineated. In contrast to the humorous aspects there is also Mayevskyj family backstory from Ukraine which is much more sombre. Nikolai and his wife lived through Stalin’s farm collectivisations (and famines) of the 1920s and 30s plus the German invasion of World War 2. The main thrust of the novel, though, is really about Nadezhda’s lack of intimate knowledge of this past and Vera’s insistence that things belong there, not to be dredged up.

Some infelicities: the marriage takes place in a Catholic church even though Valentina is divorced (but the priest may not know) and Peterborough (United) are playing at home but appear on the big screen on a pub TV. This latter is unlikely I would think – even if they did reach the Championship.

Lewycka makes great play of the traumatic past of the Majevskyj family but to my mind there was a whiff of “something nasty in the woodshed” about her treatment of it.

A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian is entertaining but ultimately strives for more than it delivers.

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