A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Nadezhda and Vera, estranged daughters of Ukrainian immigrants to England, declare a truce when faced with a common threat. Their widowed father Nikolai has met recent immigrant Valentina, a much younger woman, at a Ukrainian social club and has announced his plans to marry her. The daughters are convinced that their father is mesmerized by Valentina’s large breasts and that Valentina sees their father as a sugar daddy and a means of obtaining citizenship. Their fears are realized when she and her teenage son move in with Nikolai and begin spending his pension on Western luxuries which had become exemplars of successful capitalist living: a non-crap car, a gas stove, boil-in-the bag meals…
This is a comic, poignant look at how our self-perceptions can differ so radically from others’ impressions of us. Nikolai sees himself as a designer of farm machinery, a scholar and man of the world, but the world’s impression is that of a retired factory worker with a thick accent. His self-image is that of a vital, romantic hero leaping to the rescue of a helpless young woman; his daughters see him as a feeble, Viagra-popping old man in need of rescue from a grasping man-eater.
History plays a strong role throughout. The history of tractors that Nikolai is writing is both a technical description of the evolution of farm machinery and a memoir of political events. The family history Nadezhda uncovers contains many secrets and buried memories. The daughters’ resentment of the tacky newcomer taking their frugal, hardworking mother’s place, heightened by their palpable discomfort at having to confront and deal with their father’s sex life, provide a humorous counterpoint to the tragic stories of life under a totalitarian regime.

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