A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 3/28/2006
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)

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An amusing, astonishing debut . . . about how a family learns to let go of the past and live and love in the present.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution With this wise, tender, and deeply funny novel, Marina Lewycka takes her place alongside Zadie Smith and Monica Ali as a writer who can capture the unchanging verities of family. When an elderly and newly widowed Ukrainian immigrant announces his intention to remarry, his daughters must set aside their longtime feud to thwart him. For their father’s intended is a voluptuous old-country gold digger with a proclivity for green satin underwear and an appetite for the good life of the West. As the hostilities mount and family secrets spill out, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainiancombines sex, bitchiness, wit, and genuine warmth in its celebration of the pleasure of growing old disgracefully. A charming comedy of eros... A ride that, despite the bumps and curves in the road, never feels anything less than jaunty.” —Los Angeles Times Lewycka is a writer with a fundamentally optimistic vision of the future and a healthy curiosity about the past.” —Chicago Tribune Charming, poignantly funny.” —The Washington Post Book World

Author Biography

Marina Lewycka was born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp at the end of World War II and grew up in England. In the course of researching her family roots for this novel, she uncovered no fewer than three long-lost relatives.


1. Two phone calls and a funeral

Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee. 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.

It all started with a phone call.

My father’s voice, quavery with excitement, crackles down the line.

“Good news, Nadezhda. I’m getting married!”

I remember the rush of blood to my head. Please let it be a joke! Oh, he’s gone bonkers! Oh, you foolish old man! But I don’t say any of those things.

“Oh, that’s nice, Pappa,” I say.

“Yes, yes. She is coming with her son from Ukraina. Ternopiol in Ukraina.” Ukraina: he sighs, breathing in the remembered scent of mown hay and cherry blossom. But I catch the distinct synthetic whiff of New Russia.

Her name is Valentina, he tells me. But she is more like Venus. “Botticelli’s Venus rising from waves. Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts. When you see her you will understand.”

The grown-up me is indulgent. How sweet—this last late flowering of love. The daughter me is outraged. The traitor! The randy old beast! And our mother barely two years dead. I am angry and curious. I can’t wait to see her—this woman who is usurping my mother.

“She sounds gorgeous. When can I meet her?”

“After marriage you can meet.”

“I think it might be better if we could meet her first, don’t you?”

“Why you want to meet? You not marrying her.” (He knows something’s not quite right, but he thinks he can get away with it.)

“But Pappa, have you really thought this through? It seems very sudden. I mean, she must be a lot younger than you.”

I modulate my voice carefully, to conceal any signs of disapproval, like a worldly-wise adult dealing with a love struck adolescent.

“Thirty-six. She’s thirty-six and I’m eighty four. So what?” (He pronounces it ‘vat.’)

There is a snap in his voice. He has anticipated this question.

“Well, it’s quite an age difference...”

“Nadezhda, I never thought you would be so bourgeois.” (He puts the emphasis on the last syllable - wah!)

“No, no.” He has me on the defensive. “It’s just that…;there could be problems.”

There will be no problems, says Pappa. He has anticipated all problems. He has known her for three months.

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