Friday, 28 September 2007

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Despite a pseudo-turrets tendency to talk about Chernobyl, here at I’m not dead/Is alive we’ve only ever had three visits from the Ukraine/Ukrania. So today I hope to boost this by discussing the novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

I can’t ever remember reading a novel as quickly as I did this, and it wasn’t due to an improvement in my child like reading age or severe boredom either. The story takes place mainly in Peterborough in the early 1990s and follows two squabbling second-generation siblings as they unite against a common enemy. Their mother has recently passed away leaving feelings of guilt in the younger sister Nadia (the peace time baby), greed and self-righteousness in the elder sister Vera (the war time baby.)

The conflict initially arises out of their mother’s inheritance, which was to be divided by the two sisters equally. But through Vera’s nagging on her mother’s deathbed, she manages to get it divided by the three grand children instead, Vera having two children to Nadia's one.

They cease communicating after a massive row at the funeral. The silence isn’t broken until their crack pot father, a once brilliant engineer, who’s eccentricities have got the better of him, announces that he has been seeing a Ukrainian woman more than half his age, with intentions to marry her.

Comedy ensues, as the ideologically apposed sisters unite to defeat the ‘tart.’ Themes cover everything from marriages of convenience, tractors, the war, the insanity of the UK immigration system and the cultural differences between the UK and the Ukraine both now and then. It’s a shame that we don’t get to learn more about the current state of the Ukraine as the book focuses more on telling the story of Nadia’s parents Ukraine during Soviet occupation and the Second World War. The only mention of modern Ukraine comes from throw away comments like, “It’s run by gangsters and prostitutes” or, “Our best and brightness seek a better life in the West.”

It’s an enjoyable read and if the accolades strewn all over the front and back covers isn’t enough, you do learn a lot about the history of tractors, which is more interesting than it sounds.

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