A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

by Marina Lewycka, | Humor |
ISBN: 0141020520 Global Overview for this book
Registered by BookGroupMan of Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on 7/5/2006
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4 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I've had my eye on this for a while, so a fortuitous find in the St Columba's church bookshelf where I gave blood this week

(16/08) Finished - review to follow

Journal Entry 2 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Saturday, August 19, 2006
*spoiler*

Do you sometimes get to the end of a novel and worry that you maybe didn’t *get* it, I mean didn’t understand the plot, subtle messages and allusions? Right at the end, the ancient and quite mad Ukranian emigre Nikolai Mayevska (author of ‘A Short History…’) doing yoga in the nude in his sheltered home, reaching up and saying ‘I salute the sun!’ – what did that all mean!!

Hidden behind the comedy, this book tackles some serious and hot issues; East European immigration and the black economy of migrant workers; the abuse of old people by family or acquaintances, not random, and infinitely sadder than the tabloid pejorative ‘granny/granddad bashing’. The first-time author Marina Lewycka obviously has a love for the people of the Ukraine, their practicality, their humour, and their history of resilience faced with adversity. I thought planting the story in suburban Peterborough was great (we seem to wrongly associate influxes of new citizens with urban, city ghettos?), ‘My mother came from the steppes, and she felt at ease with these open horizons...This vast, flat, featureless (Fenland) landscape reminded her of home’.

The plot follows Nikolai (‘pappa’) recently pre-deceased by a sainted wife, as he embarks on a tragic relationship and marriage of convenience with the pneumatic gold-digger Valentina, less than half his age, ‘Botticelli’s Venus rising from the waves. Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts’. His daughters put aside a lifetime of sniping at each other to confront the common enemy.

So far so good, but I wasn’t completed convinced by the back story* of 3 generations of the family drifting across Eastern Europe caught in the tides of politics/ideology and militarism (in fact I don’t think I was paying enough attention). The younger daughter Nadezhda ‘Nadia’ who was born in England is trying to piece together the family history, of what made her bitter sister Vera, her distant dotty father and frugal earth-mother the people they became; the poignant summing up by her cowardly and weak father, ‘What happened in war? People died – that is what happened’, ‘Those who believed in something died for belief. Those who survived…’ (his ellipsis not mine)

One last brilliantly observed dialogue on the schizophrenic nature of the English by Nadia & Vera, ‘What I appreciated about growing up in England was the tolerance, liberalism, everyday kindness’ (Nadia who became a sociology lecturer in Cambridge) ‘The way the English always stick up for the underdog’. (Vera) ‘The English believe in fairness. Fair play. Like Cricket. They play by the rules. They have a natural sense of discipline and order.’ (Nadia) ‘No, no. They’re quite anarchic. They like to see the little man stick two fingers up to the world.’ (Vera) ‘On the contrary, they have a perfectly preserved class system, in which everyone knows where they belong.’

‘See how we grew up in the same house but live in different countries.’

An unusual, deceptively deep, poignant novel, I would recommend to anyone.

*I’ve read better in recent years including Crabwalk, Atonement & The Dark Room

Journal Entry 3 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Monday, August 21, 2006
Ready to send to Wyldetwo

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By post to fulfill a wish

Journal Entry 5 by wyldetwo from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Saturday, August 26, 2006
This arrived in the post this morning, thanks Tony / BGM!

Journal Entry 6 by wyldetwo from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Thursday, October 26, 2006
I can't really add much more to BookGroupMan's comments! Except to add that "Salute to the Sun" is a recognised series of yoga postures.

I found this book more serious than comic I have to say. Thanks for sharing, BGM!

Released 13 yrs ago (10/28/2006 UTC) at Hudson's, 122-124 Colmore Row in Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom

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I am bringing this to Saturday's meet-up. If not taken at the meeting it will probably end up on the shelf.

Journal Entry 8 by LyzzyBee from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Saturday, October 28, 2006
Nabbed this from wyldetwo as, although I have read it already, that was a BC copy long passed along to someone else, and it's up for discussion in the book group I've just joined! Cheers Jen!

Released 13 yrs ago (11/16/2006 UTC) at Shakespeare Inn, Lionel Street and Summer Row in Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom

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In the pub

Update: Oh god - Shakespeare is spelled wrong! I do know how to spell it, honest!! I just picked a release location that was already there and didn't look very carefully!!

Journal Entry 10 by WoollyMammoth from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Friday, November 17, 2006
I went to a bookgroup and hadn't finished the book becuase I had lost it half way through. So Lizzy gave it to me and told me about bookcrossing. What a great site.

I actually like the book! Currently half way through

CAUGHT IN BIRMINGHAM WEST MIDLANDS UK

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Released 13 yrs ago (11/17/2006 UTC) at -- Trains, Metro, Buses, Taxi in Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom

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Unlike the rest of my bookgroup ;-) I really rather enjoyed it. It captured the shear awfullness of living in that part of England perfectly - the dreaful curry. The boil in the bag food, that sort of stuff.

Interesting message about the 'good Ukrianians' who came after the war, and the 'bad economic migrants'

Incidently from reading the authour bigography it seems that the main character was shamelessly based on her. What is it with that sort of thing these days.

I released it on the train I finished reading it on - my first bookcrossing release. I keep rechecking to see if it's been found yet.

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