Friday, 3 August 2012

Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts.

I got Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian a long time ago.  But somehow, I just never got to reading it.  And so, one day, while cleaning up my bookshelf in Kedaung, Tangerang, I stumbled upon it, and decided that it was "a sign".  

Many reviews claim that the book is funny.  It's even written on the cover of the version that I have: "Extremely funny! - The Times".  

Indeed, the book started off funny, stayed as such 'til the end. But please, the story is nothing like a comedy.  There are many funny moments; but there are also many moments of deeper feelings.  It talks about the history and the ties that bind together the Mayevskyj family.  Their stories of love, joy, dedication, heartache, sacrifice, and the German holocaust.

The story weaves from the personal accounts of the narrator, the history of the family, the history of the Ukraine, of the Second World War, and of course, tractors.  They all blend together to make a rich and colorful portrait of an Eastern European family often at odds with the new place they call home, small town Peterborough, England.  Add to that blend, the crazy-like character of the story's patriarch, Nikolai Mayevskyj.

The story also tells about the dreams of many Ukrainian people these days.  No longer shielded from the rest of the world as during the Soviet years, they dream of moving to the West, and achieving all the things that they have seen on TV, read in magazines, or drooled over on the internet.  While Valentina's character often appears awful, the novel in the end portrays her as someone just looking for that something better in life.

I enjoyed the play on words, like Valentina's description as "Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts."   I also enjoyed the constant bickering between Nadezhda (the narrator) and her sister, which reminds me of how I can often bicker with my brother.  In the end, the two sisters reconciled, having each understood where the other was coming from.  That happens with me and my brother as well.

I started the book slow, but on my 7-hour trip to Guiyang, China, I managed to finish the book within a single reading, trying to stay focus as the airplane rocks up and down, side-to-side in the midst of Southern China's July Typhoon.

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