A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine: A Lesson in Not Judging a Book by it’s Title

Just for the sake of being emphatic, I’m restating the title of this blog – don’t judge a book by it’s title. That’s what Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine has taught me. This is one of those books that I would never have picked up, simply because the title tells me that it is going to be a very matter-of-fact book about the history of Ukrainian tractors – short it may be.

But no matter how short it is, I don’t want to know about Ukrainian tractors because I am no engineer, and I have not one bone in my body that can ever appreciate anything to do with tractors. So how did I get around to reading this book? A friend, who is from a rare breed of people who has the conviction to pick up rare books, appreciate them, and even passionately recommend them, suggested I read this book. And it helps that she has a knack to convince. So, I borrowed it from her.

And now that I have read this book, I can safely say, “boy, was I wrong”. Not wrong to have picked up the book, but to have been judgy about the title.

This book is just high in family drama, which bulldozes into you just when you don’t expect it. What happens when two daughters who are at logger-heads with each other realize that their widower father has made a life-changing decision that will not only turn his life on its head, but even theirs? Family drama. That’s what happens. And this is just made a little more nail-biting when you realize that there’s a madness in this book that is underscored by a dry humor. That was what struck me the most in this book.

For me, the madness was dangerously close to tipping the book to a place that I was scared of. Not in a way that it felt real, not even remotely so. It was just that the responsibility of carrying this madness throughout the book was left to the father. A father who endears himself over the course of the book and makes irrationally rash decisions. To me, it just felt unfair. While the daughters try to balance it off with a touch of grown-up airs, it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

And of course, there is a bit about the history of tractors in Ukraine, which I did not seem to mind one bit.

Are you one of the rare but brave ones who reads unusual titles? Let me know what your best pick has been!

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