A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianThe pen is mightier than the tea-towel, and Father writes his own revenge.

“Never was the technology of peace, in the form of the tractor, transformed into a weapon of war, more ferociously than with the creation of the Valentine tank. This tank was developed by the British but produced in Canada, where many Ukrainian engineers were skilled in the production of tractors. The Valentine tank was so named because it was first born into the world on the day of St Valentine in 1938. But there was nothing lovely about it. Clumsy and heavy with an old-fashioned gearbox, it was nevertheless deadly, indeed a true killing machine.”

84-year old Nikolai Mayevskkyj has been a widower for only two years (after a marriage of 60 years) when he decides out of the blue to marry Valentina, a busty bottle-blonde almost-divorced Ukrainian woman of 36. Of course, all she wants is a British passport (and her share of the pension) – so Mayevskkyj’s daughters Vera and Nadezhda instantly go into action, hoping to protect their foolish old Pappa from the scheming trollope.

Recently-divorced Vera takes charge of the Mrs Divorce Expert angle, to challenge the legalities of Valentina’s divorce, while narrator Nadezhda abandons her lefty feminist principles to play Mrs Flog-’em-and-send-’em-home, working the immigration angle. But Pappa has other ideas. He is in love, fitter and seemingly happier than he has been in years, fired with the excitement of writing his Short History. He doesn’t intend to let his interfering daughters get in the way of this last opportunity…

As Nadezhda and Vera become ever more deeply entangled in this ever-more-farcical family drama, Nadezhda learns at last the family stories that have been kept from her for all these years. She pieces together the things her family went through in the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, and later in the labour camps of wartime Germany. In all this she gains insight into her own past, her own place in the family, her relationship with her sister – and she even gains a kind of insight into the woman behind the greedy, heartless, tarty caricature that is Valentina.

Very funny and, ultimately, quite a bit more than that as well. Definitely worth reading.

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