three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-ShortHistoryTractorsSisters Vera and Nadezhda (a.k.a. Nadia) are reeling in horror at their father’s new romance with an extremely buxom blonde Ukrainian, Valentina—almost 50 years his junior. It’s been two years since their mother’s death, and the London-based siblings are still arguing over the inheritance their Ukrainian mother left behind. Complicating things even more is Dad’s desire to do anything to keep Valentina in England—including spend his pension and his daughters’ inheritance. Dad seems to have lost it, and something must be done. Meanwhile, he’s continuing work on a grand study of tractors in history, dredging up family secrets in the process.
Penguin. 304 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1594200440

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Nikolai’s likability, his manic weirdness, that make the reconciliation between his daughters that the book builds toward not only believable but also gratifying. … [D]espite tendencies toward the cute and chatty … this is an ambitious book that boils over with effortless joy and wisdom." Joel Whitney

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The narrator’s voice carries us along for a ride that, despite the bumps and curves in the road, never feels anything less than jaunty. … Riding the energetic renewal he experiences on meeting Valentina, Nikolai discovers causalities worth pondering." Askold Melnyczuk

Philadelphia Inquirer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This fine novel is funny, rings true, and teaches a lot about the origin and development of farm equipment—but its best bit concerns the narrator’s dawning awareness of what makes people who they are. Here, it’s not genetics, but history and politics that shape personality." Susan Balee

NY Times Books Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Lewycka is an awkward stylist, but the irony of [the narrator’s] conversion is too obvious to miss." Boris Fishman

Chicago Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"While the characters in Lewycka’s novel are at times immensely entertaining, they never finally become fully three-dimensional, reminding us that … only fully drawn characters could succeed in telling the deeper, richer story of postwar Russia ..." Laura Ciolkowski

Critical Summary

Much of the comedy in this first novel comes in the form of Viagra jokes. But add in a mix of Ukrainian history, World War II drama, and the classic strife between the Old and the New, and overall it succeeds. Lewycka draws on her Eastern European roots in order to incorporate a believable social history into this typical sitcom formula. A few critics found the novel too corny, too weak, and too predictable to recommend, but most were won over. A good Viagra joke will do it every time.