Lewycka, Marina 1946–
Lewycka, Marina 1946–
Born 1946, in Kiel, Germany, to Ukrainian parents; married; children: one daughter. Education: Holds an M.A.
Home—Sheffield, England. Office—Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering, and Science, Psalter Lane Campus, Sheffield S11 8UZ, England. Agent—A.M. Heath & Co Ltd., 6 Warwick Ct., Holborn, London WC1R 5DJ, England.
Writer, novelist, lecturer, and educator. Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, England, lecturer.
Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and Saga Award for Wit, both 2005, both for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (novel), Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Strawberry Fields, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2007 (novel), published in England as Two Caravans, Fig Tree (London, England), 2007.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has been translated into twenty-two languages.
(With Penny Mares and Niccy Whitaker) The Help Maternity Language Course, illustrated by Penny Mares, Printed Resource Unit for Continuing Education (Leeds, England), 1980.
Caring in a Crisis: What to Do and Who to Turn to, ACE Books (London, England), 1993.
Finding and Paying for Residential and Nursing-home Care, ACE Books (London, England), 1994.
Choices for the Carer of an Elderly Relative, edited by Caroline Hartnell, ACE Books (London, England), 1995, 2nd edition, Age Concern England (London, England), 1998.
The Carer's Handbook: What to Do and Who to Turn To, edited by Caroline Hartnell, Age Concern Books (London, England), 1998.
Caring for Someone with Diabetes, Age Concern Books (London, England), 1999.
Caring for Someone with a Hearing Loss, Age Concern Books (London, England), 2001.
Caring for Someone with a Sight Problem, Age Concern Books (London, England), 2002.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has been translated into thirty-four languages.
Writer, novelist, and educator Marina Lewycka was born to Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp near Kiel, Germany, close to the end of World War II. She was raised in England. Lewycka's family's and her own experiences as a refugee serve as a backdrop to Lewycka's darkly comic debut novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. Vera and Nadezhda, ten years apart in age, are estranged sisters who have not spoken to each other in the two years since engaging in a dispute over their mother's estate. Nadezhda, the novel's narrator, is a socially conscious, naively idealistic university teacher who wears thrift-store clothing, while Vera is comically hard-nosed and snobbish, with a penchant for stylish clothes and material luxury. Their father, Nikolai, a retired engineer well into his eighties, is a Ukrainian refugee who has become a naturalized British citizen. Thus, he understands the plight of Valentina, a thirty-six-year-old Ukrainian woman whom he meets at a local Ukrainian social club: She seeks to leave the privations of the old country and come to a better life in Great Britain. Nikolai is not interested only in a humanitarian rescue mission, however; he is thoroughly smitten with the lovely blonde Valentina and her "superior breasts." In a phone call to Nadezhda, Nikolai announces his intention to marry Valentina so that she can remain in England, a prospect that does not appeal to his daughters.
Valentina is a voluptuous, larger-than-life figure who has her own notions about what she can expect from her relationship with Nikolai. After the marriage, her demands begin. She wants a new car that "must be Mercedes or Jaguar at least. No Ford please." She wants a new stove for cooking, stating that "for civilized person, cooker must be gas, must be brown." She demands a private-school education for her son that "must be Oxford Cambridge, nothing less." Valentina even knows exactly what she wants in a new vacuum cleaner: "Civilised person's Hoover. Blue." While the hapless Nikolai works intermittently on what is to be the crowning achievement of his life—a history of tractors in Ukrainian—he endures increasingly shrill tantrums, emotional abuse, and even physical battery from the transformed Valentina. Still, not even the endless parade of lovers his wife openly displays can diminish his attraction to her.
With their father threatened financially, emotionally, and physically, the sisters forget their own conflict and unite to purge their father's life of the parasitic, resource-draining Valentina. In the process, they find their ideals challenged. Nadezhda learns chilling secrets about her father's war-era past that help explain his current predicament. As the novel nears its close, all are offered a chance at redemption.
Though A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is Lewycka's first novel, she holds a master's degree in creative writing and had been writing for more than fifty years before being published, noted Andrew Lawless in a profile for the Three Monkeys Online Web site. "I knew that this was my last chance: if this one didn't get published, I'd have given up," she told Lawless. "So I gave it everything." In a nod to verisimilitude, her own father has actually written a book on the history of tractors in Ukrainian, although she explained that her novel is not autobiographical. "Many of the events started in autobiography, but as the characters took on a life of their own, and became distinct from the people in my life, so they created their own stories."
"This novel of ruts and progress, ease and horror, assumption and suspicion, yields a golden harvest of family truths," observed Helen Brown in the London Telegraph. "Lewycka is a natural writer, a humorist with a light touch who draws the reader in to a family feud that is utterly funny but also stricken with plaintive sadness over the effects of war and inequity on human relationships," remarked Joel Whitney in the San Francisco Chronicle. With her novel, "Lewycka has created a funny, tender, and intelligent novel that is as much social history as family saga," commented Booklist contributor Elizabeth Dickie, deeming A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian "a delight."
Lewycka's next novel, Strawberry Fields, published in England as Two Caravans, focuses on unskilled immigrants and immigrant life in Great Britain and on the many people who exploit them, from farmers and business owners to other immigrants. "Immigration is very much in the news in Britain at the moment, as it is in many prosperous countries, but it is always talked about in terms of statistics—so many thousand Poles, so many thousand Chinese, and so on," the author noted in an interview on the Penguin Group Web site. "My modest aim in this book is to put a human face to some of those statistics, to tell the stories of a few of the people who find themselves adrift in the globalized labor market." The author went on later in the interview to recall her experience as a immigrant coming to England, noting: "One of the things about being an immigrant myself is that I grew up with an outsider's perspective."
Strawberry Fields revolves around a group of immigrant fruit pickers living in two caravans—one for men and one for women—in a strawberry field in Kent, England. The immigrants include two Ukrainians, an African, two Chinese girls, and others, all of them working for very little money. Nevertheless, most have idealistic views of Great Britain and their chances for opportunity. "Ms. Lewycka gives each of the characters their moment in the sun by structuring the book in short sections written in multiple voices," noted a contributor to the Economist. All the voices in the authors novel, however, are not human. One character that shows up later in the novel is a dog, appropriately named "Dog," who relates his own views of his newfound immigrant friends and life in general.
The primary characters in the novel are the two Ukrainians: nineteen-year-old Irina, who is dangerously naïve, and Andriy, a former coal miner who dreams that Sheffield will become a socialist paradise. Andriy becomes enamored with Irinia but the two are eventually separated, leading Andriy on a quest to find her. In the process, he works for a while in a chicken-processing factory, where he gets a firsthand look at how poultry undergoes what any human would consider torture.
"The author's more serious points about immigration are pertinent, but never heavy-handed," wrote Nadia Saint in a review of Strawberry Fields in the New Statesman. Library Journal contributor Maureen Neville commented that the novel's "gravity and strength" comes from Lewycka's "understanding of how a global consciousness and labor market have come together with a changing European economy." Nevertheless, despite the novel's serious themes, the author once again presents her story in comic terms as she shows immigrants demolishing the English vernacular. Paying homage to the twisted words that the author puts in her characters' mouths, Charlotte Hobson noted in the Spectator: "This Marina Lewycka, delightful ironical humour story, not too much grimy realism," adding later in the review that "many people will be enjoy, yes, and pick up nice Ukrainian-speak, like me."
Lewycka is also the author of a number of nonfiction works on elder health care. These titles offer advice and suggestions for family members and other caregivers who are charged with providing care for individuals with a variety of physical ailments and health problems. Among her works are guides for assisting individuals with diabetes, hearing loss, and sight problems. Choices for the Carer of an Elderly Relative offers suggestions for finding appropriate and effective health care and personal assistance for elderly family members, in the context of the British health system. Caring in a Crisis: What to Do and Who to Turn To offers guidance on handling health-care crises. The book contains emergency management advice and provides resources for persons who need quick information and response to urgent health-care needs.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Lewycka, Marina, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, January 1, 2005, Elizabeth Dickie, review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, p. 820.
Bookseller, September 23, 2005, "Lewycka Wins Saga Prize," p. 6; March 23, 2007, review of Two Caravans, p. 12.
Bulletin with Newsweek, February 20, 2007, Susan Skelly, review of Two Caravans, p. 60.
Economist, April 21, 2007, "Foreigners with Funny Accents; New Fiction," p. 95.
Entertainment Weekly, March 4, 2005, Bella Stander, review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, p. 78.
Guardian (London, England), March 19, 2005, Andrey Kurkov, "Human Traffic," review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2004, "At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances," review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, p. 1108; June 1, 2007, review of Strawberry Fields.
Library Journal, July 1, 2007, Maureen Neville, review of Strawberry Fields, p. 79.
London Review of Books, March 22, 2007, Joanna Biggs, "Nosy-Poky," review of Two Caravans, p. 33.
M2 Best Books, September 20, 2005, "Saga Book Prize Awarded to Marina Lewycka."
National Post, September 22, 2007, Victoria Lane, review of Strawberry Fields, p. 12.
New Statesman, April 2, 2007, Nadia Saint, "Crossing the Divide," review of Two Caravans, p. 59.
New Yorker, August 13, 2007, review of Strawberry Fields, p. 80.
New York Times Book Review, September 2, 2007, Liesel Schillinger, "Let Them Eat Shortcake," review of Strawberry Fields, p. 14.
Nursing Standard, December 12, 2007, Jean Gray, review of Two Caravans, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2005, review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, p. 33; May 28, 2007, review of Strawberry Fields, p. 33.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 27, 2005, Joel Whitney, "Scheming to Bring down the Bimbo," review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
Spectator, March 24, 2007, Charlotte Hobson, "Life in Vest," review of Two Caravans.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 27, 2005, Penny Perrick, review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
Telegraph (London, England), March 13, 2005, Helen Brown, "Charming Eyes. Superior Breasts," review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
Times (London, England), February 19, 2005, Christina Koning, review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
Times Literary Supplement, March 23, 2007, Aisling Foster, "The Labour of Others," review of Two Caravans, p. 22.
BookPage.com,http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 3, 2005), Emily Zibart, "Plowing the Field of Family Conflict," review of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
British Broadcasting Corporation Web site,http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (June 6, 2005), "Debut Novelist Takes Comic Prize," profile of Marina Lewycka.
Contemporarywriters.com,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (February 8, 2008), brief profile of author and listing of publications and awards.
Penguin Group Web site,http://us.penguingroup.com/ (February 8, 2008), interview with author.
Three Monkeys Online Web site,http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/ (September 3, 2005), Andrew Lawless, "Where Tragedy, Tractors, and Comedy Meet. Marina Lewycka in Interview."