Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside. Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must put aside a lifetime of feuding to save their émigré engineer father from voluptuous gold-digger Valentina. With her proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, she will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth. But the sister’s campaign to oust Valentina unearths family secrets, uncovers fifty years of Europe's darkest history and sends them back to roots they'd much rather forget...
©2005 Marina Lewycka (P)2012 AudioGO Ltd
"A charming comedy of eros... A ride that, despite the bumps and curves in the road, never feels anything less than jaunty." (Los Angeles Times)
"Lewycka is a writer with a fundamentally optimistic vision of the future and a healthy curiosity about the past." (Chicago Tribune)
"Charming, poignantly funny." (The Washington Post Book World)
Some readers really disliked this one, claiming the characters are insufferable. I can see why it might seem so in print, but in the audiobook they were quite well-defined (quibble though that Vera and Valentina were kind of similar sounding names, so I got them a bit confused at times). Since we see the action through the point-of-view of the younger daughter Nadia, naturally we're going to find the sister she dislikes (or at least resents) offputting; at least until the full story comes out later in the book. Nadia is a bit of a put-upon mouse at first, but comes into her own as well. Valentina may be scheming and materialistic, but a golden opportunity was thrust at her, so no surprise she took it! Their father did, indeed, put himself into the mess, but he did so much for the family over the years (as becomes evident later), that I could forgive him a well-intentioned idea ("rescuing" a Ukrainian woman and her son) gone horribly wrong. The book's not perfect - for one thing, I found the War years details clunkily done, awkward to get through. No spoiler, but the later developments were a bit much also: one key player comes to England as part of a long-term conference/training scheme ... yet speaks no English! Still, the farce helps balance out the more serious details of the family's painful past.
I'm not certain I would be giving the print version such a high rating, but the narrator hit a home run with the material as far as I'm concerned. Loathsome though Valentina behaved throughout, I looked forward to her scenes as Thomas laid on the Ukrainian accent and broken English for maximum comic effect. The father was also well done, although he sounded an awful lot like a Russian character in a mystery series I listen to ("What's Petru doing here?").
So, not only would I recommend listening, I was left hoping for a sequel.
I especially enjoyed the narrator's characterizations, and I feel very blessed that I can read along in my paperback copy of the book, when she breaks out the accents :-D
I will not compare it to any other book, none springs to mind, to be honest.... It seems like one of a kind, to me...
My humor may be a tad on the morbid side, but I found some of the passages very entertaining, the way they were told were hilarious to me, and I laughed out loud, even on the bus... :-)
That said, I do not condone abuse and mistreatment of the elders...
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