Marina Lewycka’s father really was writing a book about the history of tractors when she wrote her best selling novel.
“My father really was writing a short history of tractors, and he was writing it in Ukrainian. But his book was an engineering book full of crank-shafts and gear levers,” she explains of the inspiration behind A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. “I saw the opportunity to use the tractor history as a way of telling the history of the turbulent period my parents had lived through.
“Before my mother died, I made a little tape of her telling me about her history, her life in Ukraine and how she had come to England. That was going to be the basis of a family memoir. But when I came to write it I realised that there was not enough material for a book. There were plenty of things I didn’t know, and I would either have to abandon the project or make them up, turning the book from a memoir into a novel.”
Marina was born in 1946 in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany.
When she was a year old, the family moved to England. After the reception centre, they lived in Sussex before moving to Norton, a small mining village close to Doncaster. Her dad worked for International Harvester tractors in Doncaster.
She went to St Catherine’s School in Pontefract. They moved to Doncaster, where she went to Wheatley Hills Primary School. The family moved again, to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, where she attended Gainsborough High School for Girls, then to Witney in Oxfordshire, where she attended the Henry Box Gramar School. She took a BPhil in English at the University of York, and then enrolled for a PhD at Kings College London. But she never finished it; the 1968 movement had seized her imagination. She went off to live in a squat, and spent all her time in meetings which were more interesting than the hours spent in the library.
She’d started on her long career as an unpublished writer, which finally came to an end in 2005 when A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was published while working as a lecturer in media studies at Sheffield Hallam University
Although her novel was published in 2005 Marina believes it is still very relevant today which is one of the reasons it has now been adapted for the stage and currently at Hull Truck Theatre.
“When the book was published in 2005, there was a wave of interest in novels about Britain’s multi-cultural heritage. Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth were both best sellers. Since then, Britain has become much more intolerant of its immigrant communities. This book takes an unsentimental look at the reasons that people come to Britain and the sacrifices they make along the way.
“But at heart, it is still a family story and there are some things which never change – old men falling in love with much younger women, feuding siblings, are eternal stories that go back to the beginnings of time.”