A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian: A Novel

Marina Lewycka

Penguin,  March 2006

An International Bestseller Shortlisted for the Orange Prize

When an elderly and newly widowed Ukrainian immigrant declares his intention to remarry, his intended turns out to be a voluptuous gold digger from the old country with a proclivity for green satin underwear and an insatiable appetite for the good life of the West. And so his children Vera and Nadezhda must set aside years of bitter rivalry to rescue their annoyingly frisky father who (when he is not pursuing Valentina) is busily writing a grand history of the tractor and its role in human progress. As the intrigues multiply and secrets spill out, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian takes in love and suffering, family and ethnicity, sibling rivalry and the joys of growing old disgracefully.

paperback | ISBN: 9780143036746 | Publication Date: March 2006

"A remarkable first novel, funny, moving, and most ingenious, with a memorable cast of characters."
--Penelope Lively, author of Moon Tiger and The Photograph 

"A well-crafted and funny tale of two generations and two cultures colliding. Ms. Lewycka knows how a family works and she knows how a tractor works, which puts her in a different league entirely."
--Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook

"[A] charming, poignantly funny first novel."
--The Washington Post Book World

"A remarkable debut novel . . . A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has the wicked blend of seriousness and anarchic humor of a [Kingsley] Amis novel."
--The Washington Times

"Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian starts out riotously funny . . . but it ends up . . . a more sobering and soulful book than the reader might initially expect . . . Winning."
--The Seattle Times

"The title of Marina Lewycka's spirited novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, suggests how many fresh associations have begun gathering around that country's very name . . . The last thing one expected in a work of fiction about Ukrainian exiles was a charming comedy of eros. Until now . . . 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. While the plot drives the story in zany circles, an intriguing lesson drawn from the tragedies of the past emerges in the snippets we're offered from Nikolai's crowning project, a brief history of the tractor."
--Los Angeles Times

"[An] astonishing first novel. . . . It is an urgent and potent book in which the domestic insanity of misguided passion is played out against the tragic insanity of Ukrainian history. It is a book of furtive and uneasy laughter that reminds us that folly can be one of life's great privileges, because it is permitted only to those who survive to commit it."
--Buffalo News

"A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a mischievous and smart book, casting a penetrating eye on the human predicament. . . . Lewycka's touch stays light but her insight is piercing . . . Lewycka's novel, a breathtaking debut, [is] one of a kind."
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"An amusing, astonishing debut . . . Marina Lewycka has written a funny, often poignant piece of fiction about how a family learns to let the past go, and live and love in the present. Her prose has an assurance, poise and wicked charm seldom seen in a debut. No doubt she's a riot in the classroom. But let's hope her academic career doesn't prevent her from saying, as Nikolai does after he pens the final sentence: 'It is finished now. Take it. I have another book to write.'"
--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Lewycka brings humor to the struggles of immigration and the difficulties inherent in the shift between the communist and capitalist ways of life, while maintaining gravity in her description of Nadezhda's family's escape to England . . . A quick, light story with flamboyant characters and a unique cultural framework, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a good choice for any reader who enjoys tales of family drama."

"What makes this book more than just a jolly romp with political undertones is the way it captures the peculiar flavor of Eastern European immigrant life . . . Best of all is the author's rendering of the 'mongrel language' spoken by her characters whose fractured syntax and colorful neologisms give the narrative its snap . . . A very rich mixture indeed, as well as very enjoyable reading." 
--The Times (London)

"A delightful first novel . . . An understanding of history, a profundity, and yet a lightness of touch, that are a joy . . . Funny, touching and completely convincing."
--The Spectator (UK)

"Mingling a domestic comedy of immigrant life with the bleak history of life in Stalinist Ukraine . . . [A] memorably inventive debut . . . It's unsentimental and filled with bleak humor, yet unexpectedly moving."
--Metro (4 stars)

"Pragmatic but never indulgent . . . This lovely novel leaves you wistful."
--The Sunday Times (London)

"Intelligent, lively, well written and compassionate."
--The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian will be piled high in bookstores all year long . . . The funny fertile soil that Marina Lewycka ploughs in her first novel will unearth emotions and contradictions much closer to home . . . Lewycka's hugely enjoyable book is a marvelous dissection of the Eastern European immigrant experience. This novel of ruts and progress, ease and horror, assumption and suspicion, yields a golden harvest of family truths."
--The Daily Telegraph (UK)

"[An] unusual and poignant novel."
--Publishers Weekly

"Lewycka has created a funny, tender, and intelligent novel that is as much social history as family saga. It is a delight."