A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian By Marina Lewycka
What would you do if, shortly after your mother's death, your elderly father fell in love with a blonde bombshell? Valentina is a blonde, and very buxom, bombshell who wants a British passport and a ticket out of Eastern Europe and she has set her sight on Nikolai. Nadia and her older sister, Vera, are confronted with just this sudden love affair while still mourning their mother's death. Their family had many years earlier made a new life for themselves in post Second World War England, after emigrating from the Ukraine.
The daughters were educated and have professional careers; they have married and have teenage daughters.
They expected that they would have to care for their father, Nikolai, after their mother's death and are rightly very concerned when he announces that he has fallen in love.
He intends to marry and provide a home for Valentina and her son.
As the daughters attempt to talk sense to their father he has made up his mind that Valentina will restore him to his youth and care for him in his old age.
Of course poor Nikolai is besotted - as Nadia's husband so foolishly says it is every man's dream to be in the arms of a buxom younger woman!
Bad to worse
This is a rollicking rollercoaster ride of a story as things go from bad to worse - from the marriage to the depletion of the small saving account that the parents had worked so hard to accumulate all of their lies. Valentina wants and acquires new appliances and fancy cars - all the while carrying on various love affairs in her efforts to have everything that she sees as available to her in her new life.
Nikolai has moments of sanity when he knows in his foolish heart that this is not going to end well - but Valentina has her charms - such as they are. It is only when he is forced to accept that he was, in fact, simply used by her to gain permanent resident status that he begins to allow his daughters to extricate him from the marriage.
Woven into this nightmare of marital life is the history of the family of Nikolai and his first wife, Ludmilla, and of the daughters, Vera, born in war torn Europe, and Nadia, the daughter born into the freedom of life in England.
The family secrets were held close by the parents and Vera, from the child of the new world, but Nadia begins to learn their story as Vera allows herself, bit by bit, to share with Nadia the history of her parent's lives before her birth.
The rancor of years between the sisters begins to melt away as they must join forces to save their father form financial and life-threatening disaster. Nadia's husband Mike is a great supporting character as he provides the voice of sanity among the hysterical family members.
All the while Nikolai is writing a history of tractors and their effect on modern society - for a few moments of comic relief.
The entire book is a pleasure to read - funny and tragic at just the right moments. It is a riot of extremes with periods of calm, when it almost seems that things might work out.
Marina Lewycka is a wonderful writer - it is as if she is telling us this crazy tale in person. Crazy it is, but all too possible!
Many of us have had father's leap into marriages with younger women, but hopefully few are as exciting as the marriage of Nikolai and Valentina.