Not enough here to reinvigorate an old, old story.

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A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRAINIAN

Ancient widower weds gold digger; daughters intervene; goodbye, gold-digger.

The old man who makes a fool of himself over a younger woman is a staple of the human comedy, and, in Lewycka’s first novel, the old man lives in England, an immigrant from Ukraine like the author herself. Kolya Mayovskyj is an octogenarian, a retired engineer with a love of poetry, philosophy and tractors. His wife, Ludmilla, has been dead two years when he meets another Ukrainian, 36-year-old Valentina, and is enchanted by her winning ways and massive boobs. Valentina needs the right papers for herself and her teenaged son Stanislav, and as much of Kolya’s money as she can get her hands on. The story is narrated by Nadia, one of Kolya’s two daughters, a university lecturer with an English husband and child, though we learn little about them. The focus is on her father, the book he’s writing (see title), his past in the old country, and her relationship with her sister Vera, ten years older. The sisters haven’t spoken since a disagreement over their mother’s will, but the common enemy Valentina draws them back together. Their rapprochement is strengthened once Nadia learns their family’s darkest secret (the fight for survival, before she was born, in a German labor camp). Now the sisters contact lawyers and immigration authorities. Their father’s marriage soon turns sour, and the frail Kolya’s adoration of Valentina turns to fear as the promiscuous predator physically abuses him. Not that Kolya is unduly sympathetic himself, as flashbacks show him responsible for his mother-in-law’s death back in Ukraine. He eventually agrees to a divorce, and another go-round of hearings and appeals yields little drama or comedy, even with the extra fillip of Valentina’s pregnancy (Kolya decidedly not the father). The deus ex machina is Valentina’s former husband, newly arrived from Ukraine.

Not enough here to reinvigorate an old, old story.

Pub Date: March 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-59420-044-0

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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