Book Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian — Marina Lewycka
If you’re looking for a book that makes you laugh inappropriately in metros and parks, this is not it.
What it is, is a mesh of damaged, eccentric yet likeable characters who evolve as the story progresses. They start off as caricatures — an 84-year-old Ukrainian widower obsessed with tractors marries a young immigrant with pneumatic breasts and an unusually dull son. His two estranged daughters: a sociologist and a snob, are now forced to reconcile in order to help their father out of the mess of his own making.
We know what the premise is. The book doesn’t throw surprising plot twists at us, and that’s good. It leaves you with a pleasant aftertaste — here’s a book that is not pretending to be more funny than it is. The humour is life-like, it's peppered through the pages, it doesn’t overwhelm. You notice yourself transitioning from laughing at the characters to empathizing with them, and I think that’s a marker of good writing.
You learn a lot of random facts about tractors (you saw the cover of the book, you knew that was a given), but you also get closely acquainted with the immigrant experience.
“Our little exile family, held together by our mother’s love and beetroot soup, has started to fall apart.”
You see a broken family attempting to heal, partly because of bureaucracy and partly because they need to band together against one person — one very strong, very angry person.
Lewycka does not ask too much from her readers. You can either finish this book in one sitting or let it rest on your self half-read for ages and not feel like you missed out on anything. I was frankly very surprised to find out that this book made the Booker longlist for 2005, which is quite a feat for a debut novel.
The book does seem to make light of elder abuse at certain points, switches from a first-person to an omnipresent narrator and includes scattered references to the holocaust. As a book, it's quite middling, it does not offend or entertain to extremes, it is only half as quirky as its cover.