A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005): Marina Lewycka

★★★

Thirteen years after it exploded into the bestseller charts, I’ve got around to reading this quirky tale of feuding sisters, immigration appeals and late-life love. Nadia and her older sister Vera are of Ukrainian heritage: their parents moved to Britain after the Second World War, fleeing the brutality of Stalin’s agricultural reforms. They’ve never been close: in fact, they’ve been engaged in a feud for the last two years over the division of their late mother’s assets. But things change abruptly when they hear troubling news. Their eighty-four-year-old father has fallen in love. He’s going to get married again, to Valentina, a pneumatic, blonde, thirty-six-year-old Ukrainian divorcee. Alarm bells start ringing, and Nadia and Vera find themselves forced into a stiff entente as they embark on a mission to protect their vulnerable Pappa – a quest which might just end up in them learning more about themselves along the way.

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Bite-Sized Russians

Bite-Sized Books

Penguin’s Little Black Classics series includes a number of works by Russian writers, who haven’t figured very prominently in my reading to date. It was time to correct that. These short stories gave me the chance to have brief encounters with Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Gogol and Chekhov, none of whom I’d read before, as well as renewing my acquaintance with the towering Tolstoy. It has felt rather like speed-dating with Russian authors. Along the way I’ve been introduced to ambitious officers, unhappy wives, unscrupulous peasants, mentally unstable dreamers and an errant nose with a penchant for disguise. My appetite has certainly been whetted and, in due course, I’ll be looking into some of these authors in greater detail. By the way, I must stress that I’m well aware Gogol is Ukrainian by birth, but I hope I can be forgiven for including him here, as he’s often cited among the great Russian-speaking writers. Now, don your fur hat, grab your tot of vodka and hie ye to your troika, as we delve into the 19th-century Russian mind…

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