The author of six books about caring for the elderly, Marina Lewycka brings a rare elegance to her description of 80-year-olds. The geriatric hero of her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, is enchantingly annoying—spacey, ornery, and completely unrealistic about his sexual prowess. Like many men with failing hearing, vision, and bladder control, he happens upon a “Big Idea,” marrying a 36-year-old blonde from Ukraine (in need of an English visa) and horrifying his middle-aged daughters. They spend most of the novel tittering about their dad—like most sibling gossip-fests, the conversations never lack in humor.
The wife’s “superior breasts” quickly become the focus (“Man like tits. You papa like tits”), reducing the daughters to idly stealing her bras. Formerly “leftish,” the youngest sister, when tested, adopts a newfangled old-world snootiness, learning how to deport an immigrant and then writing letters of complaint to the British Home Office. Like a reverse tale of colonization, booby-wife accumulates all the necessary Western loot (Hoover vacuum, Rolls
-Royce, even bigger breasts) while the sisters watch in a state of ideological crisis. Their family problems become a cheery parody of the country’s political dysfunctions.