A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

By Marina Lewycka

“Extremely funny” says The Times.
“Mad and Hilarious,” Daily Telegraph.
“Uproariously funny” from The Economist

Guys, this was one of the most mean-spirited books I’ve read in a long time. Sisters Vera and Nadia hate each other and seem contemptuous of their elderly widowed father. When he becomes attached to a much younger woman, they try to intervene, seemingly more out of immediate hatred for this new woman than any concern for their father. Their father, in turn, disdains his daughters for a variety of reasons, and fights their intervention, even as the new woman turns out to be despicable and abusive.

The back blurb teased that this struggle uncovers long buried family secrets, which is what hooked me (as well as the unusual title). And the central story is interspersed with background vignettes on the parents’ and grandparents’ lives in Ukraine, though there is no big reveal or epiphany. Instead, by spending just a little more time talking about their different experiences growing up, the two sisters reach a basic level of empathy for each other that they probably should have managed a long time ago. Oh, and there are also passages from a short book the father is writing about tractors. The history of mechanical invention is not really my thing, but I actually welcomed the breaks from the central characters.

I wanted to quit a couple of times, but was too embarrassed after the librarian had looked so intrigued by the title when I was checking it out and made a note to check it out herself. Plus, I feel like I’ve been losing interest in books halfway through lately, and that I should really see one through to the end. That said, the ending was surprisingly satisfactory and even a little touching after all the meanness, so that was kind of nice.

This entry was posted in Fiction.

4 comments on “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

  1. Anna says:

    I was curious what other people thought (and what I missed in the humor), but most people seemed to have the same reaction that I did, including one of my favorite romance authors, KJ Charles: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4574407058?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

  2. Rebecca says:

    I loved reading you review, but I think I’m going to give this book a miss!

  3. Kinsey says:

    I’ve decided not to trust when reviews tell me a literary novel is funny, after I read The Imperfectionists because lots of reviews called it funny, and then I ultimately thought it was incredibly depressing and actively made me cry.

    • Anna says:

      I thought you’d had a similar experience, but couldn’t remember which book. I swear I’m side eyeing anyone who found this particularly funny!

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