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.