Ukraine Book - A Short history of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.

This Ukraine book, A Short history of Tractors in Ukranian is a fun read with plenty of themes and areas for discussion. It will  have you laughing (but probably not out loud!)

This Ukraine book is an enjoyable & easy read, a page turner, effectively, told in the first person singular.

Writing about one's family is generally interesting to the reader, for most of us like to nose into other people's lives to some extent. 

This story allows us to peep into the lives of Father, Nadia, Vera, Valentino & Stanislav.

We are treated to a very humorous view of the family through Nadia's telling but we also see them all, including Nadia, in a very unpleasant way. It's also easy to imagine that there's a lot of the writer's earlier life woven into the story.

The Plot

The Plot of this Ukraine book is simple ; it's about a father & his two daughters. The former, along with his wife, now dead, & his elder daughter arrived  in the U.K. as refugees 50 years before, from the Ukraine.

In the Ukraine, there was  a history of harsh conditions & events back    during & after the Second World War.

The second daughter, Nadia, was also born in the Ukraine but she was ten years younger than Vera & thus arrived in the U.K. unscathed by the horrors of War & tyrannical regimes & has led a largely stable & pleasant life.

This age gap is so important to the story. Vera & Nadia's father is odd/eccentric/bizarre/sex mad but a lot of his actions come about because he is very lonely & needs stimulation (not just sexual).

After 50 years of living in the U.K. he still has strong feelings for The Ukraine, the land of his formative Years; HOME.

From this simple domestic plot, the writer takes us on a roller coaster of a journey, & along the way, she changes our perspectives & feelings several times over. When the father meets a new lady friend (Valentino - much younger than himself) the two daughters, who haven't spoken in years, start to get worried about their inheritance, and finally start speaking to each other to see if they can oust Valentino.


Ukraine Book - A Short history of Tractors in Ukrainian

The Influence of The Past On Our Lives

Our past shapes who we are & most importantly, it shapes our perspectives. It's no wonder the two sisters don't get on; their early lives couldn't have been more different. Mother, Father & Vera protect Nadia from truths about their past.

Should they have done so? Do we have the right to have such secrets within the family?


Closely connected with the above is the theme of perspectives. The way we are shaped in our youth influences the way we see things; this is illustrated through the major characters.


There is such a lot of humour as we read about the family at war & the various antics  of Valentino, Father & the two feuding sisters, who constantly bitch as they play off one against the other.

The domestic setting created by Mum, which we get from the super descriptions of the garden with its plentiful fruit & veg, is set against a family at war. The sisters are so anxious that one shouldn't  inherit more than the other. And when Valentino comes along, their concern is as much about protecting their inheritance as it is about worrying about their Dad,

Infact, that's when they start talking after two silent years since the death of their mother. Typical of most children, the sisters can't cope with their lonely, sex mad father, staring at & touching Valentino's breasts & possibly making a baby with her. There is a lot in this family story which we can identify with though thankfully not all.

Wouldn't we all have been horrified if our father had met a Valentino!!! Vera describes her family as dysfunctional. True,  though perhaps they can turn that around at the end of the story & with some help from the cousins. No!! Perhaps not!  Wishful thinking!!  It's interesting that in all this, Mike is on the outside & so has a different point of view; he finds the whole problem of  Father & Valentino quite funny,"You've got to give him a chance to have a bit of fun."


 Nadia tells the story from her perspective. She has lead a very comfortable, stable life with Mike, her husband, & their daughter Anna. As the story progresses, we see her gradually changing her earlier perspectives as she discovers more about the awful experiences of her parents & her sister. There have been such tensions between the sisters, caused because the others have wanted to protect  her from their horrors as well as wanting to forget about them themselves.  Once Nadia realises this, she can begin the healing process with her sister. The story finishes on a note of hope for the sisters, strengthened by the 3 cousins who, having no troubled history, just want them all to be happy together.


The bottom line of the whole story is money; Vera & Nadia aim to protect their inheritance; Valentino wants British Nationality along with money & as many consumer goods as she can get her hands on. She's grasping & with her boil in the bag meals, acts as a contrast to their mother who lived frugally & grew most of their food. Mother represents an old order whllst Valentino represents a newer, modern order of grabbing, taking, expecting.


It's a very funny read helped by the gap between paragraphs.  The spaces between the paragraphs help create a dramatic effect & frequently create great comic timing.


This Ukraine book seems to be about  escapism on Father's part. He eventually needs to get away from Valentino, his loneliness, the attacks & nagging of his daughters  & perhaps, above all, to absorb himself in thoughts of home back in the Ukraine & to constantly remind himself of his previous importance as a proud, educated man, which contrasts with his present sad, pathetic, comic situation.

The Plight Of Immigrants

The story illustrates the universal & timeless plight of immigrants, as valid today as during & after the Second World War. It makes you feel more sympathetic to their needs, fears & hopes & is an important element to the story for it shapes the way certain characters behave.

Book Club Questions

Ukraine Book - A Short history of Tractors in Ukrainian

Should families be allowed to keep secrets?

Do secrets cause more harm than good?

Have you ever kept a secret from your family and then wished you hadn't?

Did you find the characters likeable in this Ukraine book?

Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of Ukranian people?

Did you learn anything about Ukrainian Tractors?

Do children have a right to inheritance? Will our children inherit or will our generation spend it all first?

Discuss the humour in this book. Was it laugh out loud? Is it even funny or is it a depressing state of affairs?


There was great excitement about reading this Ukraine book as most people had heard something positive about it. Afterwards, we were all glad that we had read it.

But the book seemed to disappoint some, scoring an average of 6/10.

The humour was maintained throughout  but we all thought we were going to learn something about The Ukraine & its people & I suppose we did find out about the tractors from Father. But, eventually, some began to find the story depressing & disappointing. 

Valentino is grotesque as is her sister; Father is pathetic; the daughters are bitches, Yes! you do laugh but at the same time you realise what awful people they are.

None of the characters, except perhaps for Dubov, are good adverts for The Ukraine or as parents. BUT, these people could have come from anywhere in the world!

Worth a read and lots to discuss but you may feel slightly disappointed.

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