Posts tagged A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Finished Reading “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”

What a poignant story written by Marina Lewycka, where to begin?  This book “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” depicts a dysfunctional family in the many layers she produces in this quick read of 324 pages.  For those who know their Soviet history in Ukraine, there will be nothing new about the different locations mentioned and what the Ukrainians underwent during the famine of 1932-33, Great Patriotic War and post war year repressions. 

For those people from the West who know little to nothing about the Soviet period of collectivization, industrialization, famine, purges, repressions, the reader is compelled forward, the author deftly records historical fact.  The reason you read on through the somber details is really the underlying fabric with the bright ornamentation of the character development of the 46 year old daughter Nadia who writes in first person about her Big Sis Vera.  The two sisters team up to help their 84 year old father struggle against the demon 36 year old hussy from Ukraine, Valentina who marries him to improve her lot in life in England.

Meanwhile, the engineer father who is probably certifiably crazy is paranoid and love starved, writes a short history that is woven throughout about tractors.  The eccentric father was the Big Idea guy who was married to the two sisters mother for 60 years, she was the one who had the Ukrainian friends in their community in England. Masterfully composed from beginning to end, this book reminded me once again that I had just finished reading another book (The Help) that was layered with family stories tied up in political big picture drama in the U.S. in the 1960s. 

Not sure I can read too many more of these emotional books about families being so far away from my own family during this Thanksgiving season.  I just learned that a colleague lost a one year old niece to swine flu. The one fear we as foreigners have is losing a loved one while living so far away.  It happens. Family is very valuable and blood does run thicker than water.

Here is one painting at the TENGRI-UMAI art gallery, here in Almaty, Kazakhstan that I enjoyed looking at. It reminds me of my Mom and three sisters, our sitting around the piano making music with singing and stringed instruments.  Looking back, I came from a fairly normal family.  For that I am thankful.

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Reading a Book from the AIWC Book Sale

Even though I was in charge of the Book sale for the AIWC Charity Bazaar, I only bought TWO paperbacks.  One book I knew about when I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine several years ago and was intrigued by the title: “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”  It is a hilarious fiction novel that must have been built around a real life situation.  An author just can not make something like this up.  Layers of Ukraine’s sad historical reality are packed into every page with the development of each character.

Having lived and taught in Ukraine for about 7-8 years and interviewed and befriending older members of the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis, I know a bit about what went into this book.  It’s written from the 46 year old daughter’s perspective who teaches at Cambridge, about her 86 year old Ukrainian father who marries a 30 something voluptuous tart from Ukraine.  The family dyanmics become even more wild when two estranged sisters after their mother’s death fight together to usurp the brassy lady from their father’s home.  I’m in the middle of this book and the tension continues to build.  Funny, funny, but sad really.

I’m looking forward to reading my other nonfiction book once the Christmas vacation arrives but that will happen only after all powerpoint presentations are complete, all grades turned in, all chances of appeals by students elapsed.  Reading books is a nice escape from the funny/sad reality I am living in in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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