Context: England were justifiably knocked out of the World Cup while I was finishing this off.
Now this I enjoyed. Here’s a book that is perfect for someone who wants small doses of philosophy and reflection on the human condition embedded in several spoonfulls of sugar. All in all, Tractors makes for a very entertaining read and one which makes you think about the cultures we come from and how they shape our responses to what life deals us. Why it was taken off the 1001 books list earlier this year is something of a mystery to me now.
Take a displaced family from the Ukraine fleeing the broken heart of Europe at the end of WW2, settle them down in eastern England and wait 30 years. Then remove the mother and throw in “a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee” and you have the opening setting of Tractors. From the word go, there is good old-fashioned storytelling tension between Valentina and the family she imposes herself on.
The story develops into something of a tragi-comic farce as the two sisters attempt to rid their rather of his voluptuous limpet. You might need to understand a bit of how immigration works in the UK to fully appreciate it. There again, you might simply want to learn more about it. Suffice to say that the novel is important because it does fairly well at capturing the heart of a major issue in the UK at the time it was written. The open door immigration policy of the government was coming under serious criticism at the time and although I’m glad to see a novel has tapped this vein, I’m not convinced that Lewycka dug deep enough to get the real nuggets out.
What she can do is write an extremely engaging and at times hilarious story. I could easily have read this in one sitting if life hadn’t got in the way. There was no point where I felt bored. Strangely though, when it ended, I was satisfied. It didn’t need to be longer.
Lewycka writes in the first person. I’m inclined to believe that this is because this is a semi-autobiographical novel. I’m not sure which bits are fiction and non but that insight means the book is very well characterised. Unfortunately though, it makes me wonder whether we’ll see the likes of this from her pen again.
There are ten years between [my sister] Vera and me – ten years that gave me the Beatles, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the student uprising of 1968, and the birth of feminism, which taught me to see all women as sisters – all women except my sister that is.