Beware, Marina Lewycka’s debut novel is very deceptive. On the surface it may seem like a typical chick lit situation ; an eighty-four old Ukrainian emigrant marries a bosomy Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina. Which in turn brings together two sisters who have been feuding for years over their dead mother’s inheritance.
but it is much more than that.
Each character in the book represents a part of the Ukraine’s history and Lewycka comes to the theory that each person’s character is shaped by the era of history they were part of. To illustrate a case in point take the narrator. Born at a time when the second World War finished and the Ukraine was filled with hope of a new era, resulted in Nadia (the narrator’s name) acquiring positive traits, while her sister Vera grew up amid the Russian tortures and thus is a negative person, Valentina is materialistic as she has been brought up to believe that products are a sign of well being and prosperity.
In between this we get interjections of the Ukraine’s pre war history through Nadia father’s work in progress – a history of the Tractor in the Ukraine, which lends insights to how industrialism affected said country.
At first one isn’t sure if Lewycka wants to really focus the story or the history of the Ukraine but by the middle of the book it is quite clear to see which path she is going to take and the divorce/inheritance plot is simply a macguffin (I’ve ALWAYS wanted to use that word – hurrah!) . This leads to an interesting and insightful novel although some of the supposedly funny bits are corny, they provide light relief to a sort of harrowing history of a country which has been going through (according to the author) some sort of transition period.