A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

by Marina Lewycka

Penguin, $116

Marina Lewycka, 58, is proof that it's never too late to start writing that first book. And she demonstrates how simple it can be to get published: an examiner who read the work she produced for a creative-writing course was also a literary agent who recognised her talent. He was right. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was short-listed for the Orange prize for Lewycka's heartfelt story combining hardship with farce, tragedy with humour. The novel tells of two daughters who go into battle mode in Britain when a Ukrainian opportunist latches onto their father, Nikolai. He's 84, she's 36. As Valentina attempts to cash in on everything her elderly lover owns, old secrets dating from the second world war emerge, explaining why the sisters are so different. Nikolai is writing a treatise on the development of the tractor, which heralded the deaths of millions of Ukrainians who starved because of Stalin's industrialisation aims. The Independent had no problems with a story anchored on a gold-digger, saying: 'Lewycka's reworking of an old cliche ploughs a rich comic furrow.'