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Life After the USSR: Women in the Ukraine, Serious and Funny

  • Jun 22, 2013
Rating:
+4
I couldn't help thinking about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian when I saw the story in The New York Times this week about the radical feminist movement Femen, which had its origins, apparently, in the Ukraine.

This group whose members protest topless, "now has chapters in nine countries, on four continents...calls its tactics “sextremism” and its hundreds of mostly volunteer members “shock troops” — frontline soldiers in a global war against patriarchy, and for women’s rights. Its sworn enemies are dictatorship, organized religion and sexual exploitation."

The story focuses on one very pretty young woman Sasha Shevensko who explains her involvement: “I decided for myself to be a woman, to be a girl who will open eyes for other women, for other girls,” she said. “Because I know myself — Ukrainian girls are stupid. We don’t have sexual education in schools. In universities, we don’t have feminist education. We don’t know even what feminism is.”

Were more of that attitude around, the villainess in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian would not be so keen on getting out of Ukraine and to the UK where she entraps an elderly Ukrainian widower to the dismay of his fully-assimilated daughters.

Lewycka's novel is extremely funny, and, while there is ugliness under the surface, the reader only glimpses it. I have no idea if Lewycka has had any contact with Femen--she's more than a generation older--but I'm sure she would appreciate the way they use convention and shock to get their message across.



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review by . June 20, 2013
I couldn't help thinking about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian when I saw the story in The New York Times this week about the radical feminist movement Femen, which had its origins, apparently, in the Ukraine.      This group whose members protest topless, "now has chapters in nine countries, on four continents...calls its tactics “sextremism” and its hundreds of mostly volunteer members “shock troops” — frontline soldiers in a …
review by . November 24, 2008
This book starts with a broadly comic familiar premise (86-year old, recently widowed, Ukrainian emigre Nikolai marries a blond gold-digger 50 years his junior, to the horror of his two daughters) and you can't help wondering if you've signed up for a predictable romp, maybe spiced up with some Ukrainian local color. Fortunately, Marina Lewycka has something more interesting in store than low comedy and lazy stereotypes and the story that unfolds is more nuanced than its initial premise would suggest, …
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Ranked #92
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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The premise of Lewycka's debut novel is classic Viagra comedy: a middle-aged professor's aging and widowed father announces he intends to marry a blonde, big-breasted 30-something woman he has met at the local Ukrainian Social Club in the English town where he lives, north of London. It is clear to Nadezhda and her sister, Vera, that the femme fatale Valentina is only after Western luxuries—certainly not genuine love of any kind. Smitten with the ambitious hussy, their father forges ahead to help Valentina settle in England, spending what little pension he has buying her cars and household appliances and even financing her cosmetic surgery. In the meantime, Nadezhda, a socialist, and Vera, a proud capitalist, confront the longstanding ill will between them as they try to save their father from his folly. Predictable and sometimes repetitive hilarity ensues. But then Lewycka's comic narrative changes tone. Nadezhda, who has never known much about her parents' history, pieces it together with her sister and learns that there is more to her cartoonish father than she once believed. "I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel.
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ISBN-10: 0143036742
ISBN-13: 978-0143036746
Author: Marina Lewycka
Publisher: Penguin

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