Apparently Marina Lewycka published her debut novel, “A short history..” at the age of 58, after many rejections from publishers. Those publishers must be kicking themselves in the behind right now, because I’ve no idea what they were thinking. Granted, the story doesn’t fall into any neat genre or packaging, but the fact remains – it’s quite delightful.
The story begins when the narrator, Nadia’s 84 year old father calls her to announce that he is re-marrying – to a 36 year old Ukranian woman called Valentina. Valentina turns out to be everything Nadia feared, and worse. An aggressively bosomed, synthetic blond Ukranian emigrant, it’s very clear she’s marrying Nikolai for his money (which she drastically over estimates). Her plan is to marry him, get a British passport and then use his money to get her darling son Stanislav, an “oxfordcambridge education”.
Horrified, Nadia and her estranged older sister Vera, are unusually united in their efforts to oust the gold digger. Valentina however, proves to be a very worthy adversary, blocking them at every step. Along the way, stories are told and histories are revealed, both of the family and communist USSR.
The book is a touching commentary on families, relationships, marriage and the inevitability of aging, with some interesting insights into communist USSR, as well, of course, as a short history of tractors! The characters are well developed, each with his or her inherent flaws. No one is a villain in this piece, and Lewycka, despite channeling her prose through one character, makes the reader feel sympathy, if not empathy for each of them.
The only fault I might find would be with Valentina’s depiction, which sometimes tends on caricature. On the other hand Michael (called Mikael Gordonovitch, by his father-in-law), Nadia’s husband often comes across as flat and lifeless. They are minor flaws though. Lewycka manages to infuse a great comic undertone and some of the conversations are both wonderfully realistic and hilarious. The story is in different parts funny, tragic, poignant and uplifting. All in all, a great read!
Maya always has three books going at the same time - a different book for every mood. She loves exploring new authors, but every now and then she sinks back into the comfort of old favourites like murder mysteries and Regency romances. A corporate butterfly, Maya lives and works in Bangalore, India.
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