From Publishers Weekly
The premise of Lewycka's debut novel is classic Viagra comedy: a middle-aged professor's aging and widowed father announces he intends to marry a blonde, big-breasted 30-something woman he has met at the local Ukrainian Social Club in the English town where he lives, north of London. It is clear to Nadezhda and her sister, Vera, that the femme fatale Valentina is only after Western luxuries—certainly not genuine love of any kind. Smitten with the ambitious hussy, their father forges ahead to help Valentina settle in England, spending what little pension he has buying her cars and household appliances and even financing her cosmetic surgery. In the meantime, Nadezhda, a socialist, and Vera, a proud capitalist, confront the longstanding ill will between them as they try to save their father from his folly. Predictable and sometimes repetitive hilarity ensues. But then Lewycka's comic narrative changes tone. Nadezhda, who has never known much about her parents' history, pieces it together with her sister and learns that there is more to her cartoonish father than she once believed. "I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel.
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Vera and Nadezhda have not spoken to one another since their mother's funeral two years ago. But the news that their eccentric 83-year-old father, Nikolai, wants to marry a 36-year-old woman from Ukraine so that she can stay in England causes them to work past their differences to save the old man from himself. Despite their efforts, Valentina moves in with Nikolai and begins to demand the good life the West is supposed to provide her, from a "civilized person's Hoover" and a "not-peasant-cooking" stove to a Rolls-Royce. As Valentina's demands become more ridiculous, the sisters band closer together to get her out, while Nikolai begins his laborious work on the history of the tractor and its effect on society. While the sisters and Valentina spar, Nadezhda struggles to put together the pieces of her family's past in Ukraine and Germany during World War II. Drawing on her own family, Lewycka has created a funny, tender, and intelligent novel that is as much social history as family saga. It is a delight. Elizabeth DickieCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved