I am woefully out of the literary circles; i.e. I am not really up-to-date what good books are getting published and/or popular. This is partly because I don’t want to sadden my heart: I don’t have time to read nowadays, so why should I even know about what I am missing. I know this is head-in-the-sand practice, but it is often easier this way. I still have two connections to fresh books. One of them is that I am subscribing and reading cover to cover the Jewish Review of Books. The other is that I talk to my mother almost every week, who keeps me abreast on what she is reading and what books she encounters. I learned through her about Marina Lewycka‘s “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.” My mother offered to send me the book from Hungary, but I checked the local library, while talking to her, and found that they have it. I had the book in my hand within 2 days.
Later in the week I got sick and one of the things I managed to do while in bed was finishing this book. I am so glad I got the book and I had a chance to read it too. I have dozens of books waiting on my shelves and Kindle to be read, but this was so interesting and easy to read that it jumped to the head of the queue.
I got my primary and secondary schooling in Hungary, during Communism. There was no mention of the Stalin induced famine of Ukraine of 1932-33. Later I’ve heard bits here and there, but never really got around to read about it properly. This book gave a personal insight into this history. Even if it is not a scholarly work, but the list of sources at the end of the book convinced me that the author properly researched the topic. Thank you for starting to fill the gap in my knowledge.
Here is a quote that grabbed my attention from page 256 “Once we were a nation of farmers and engineers. We were not rich, but we had enough. […] Now racketeers prey on our industries, while our educated youth fly westward in search of wealth.” The same day I read this I also heard that according to the Hungarian government about half a million Hungarian citizens left Hungary to work/live in other countries. That’s a pretty big number compared to a population of 10 million. I also have been reading on and off a blog where almost every day someone describes why they left Hungary and where and how they live now. (hataratkelo.blog.hu) I have perverse mixed feelings about it. On one hand I am someone who left Hungary almost 18 years ago, so I am one of those educated youth. On the other hand I want to see Hungary prosper, so I want smart people to stay there and attempt to make it a better, more livable country. But having left it I feel I do not have the right to suggets how others should behave. It saddens and angers me to no end, that the people in charge act as “racketeers prey[ing] on our industries”. The previous governments where also far from perfect, but this one might finish the destruction of any hope for progress. Thus these sentences from the book struck a strong and deep chord in me.
Why did I like the book? Because it was a multi-layered mixture of content and style that fit together into a coherent unit. The slowly emerging details of various family secrets, the obsession and expertise about engineering, the gullibility of and old man, the driving forces of a con-woman, the empty status-symbol of big cars, the frugality of keeping a house by someone who lived through real famine, the generational contrast of exiles… and there are many more enjoyable elements I could mention. Personal, attention-keeping, through-provoking combination with a keen eye on personal motivations and characters. What else would I need?