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My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoirby Meir Shalev
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the acclaimed novel A Pigeon and a Boy comes a charming tale of family ties, over-the-top housekeeping, and the sport of storytelling in Nahalal, the village of Meir Shalev’s birth. Here we meet Shalev’s amazing Grandma Tonia, who arrived in Palestine by boat from Russia in 1923 and lived in a constant state of battle with what she viewed as the family’s biggest enemy in their new land: dirt.
Grandma Tonia was never seen without a cleaning rag over her shoulder. She received visitors outdoors. She allowed only the most privileged guests to enter her spotless house. Hilarious and touching, Grandma Tonia and her regulations come richly to life in a narrative that circles around the arrival into the family’s dusty agricultural midst of the big, shiny American sweeper sent as a gift by Great-uncle Yeshayahu (he who had shockingly emigrated to the sinful capitalist heaven of Los Angeles!). America, to little Meir and to his forebears, was a land of hedonism and enchanting progress; of tempting luxuries, dangerous music, and degenerate gum-chewing; and of women with painted fingernails. The sweeper, a stealth weapon from Grandpa Aharon’s American brother meant to beguile the hardworking socialist household with a bit of American ease, was symbolic of the conflicts and visions of the family in every respect.
The fate of Tonia’s “svieeperrr”—hidden away for decades in a spotless closed-off bathroom after its initial use—is a family mystery that Shalev determines to solve. The result, in this cheerful translation by Evan Fallenberg, is pure delight, as Shalev brings to life the obsessive but loving Tonia, the pioneers who gave his childhood its spirit of wonder, and the grit and humor of people building ever-new lives.
"In this tender, hilarious memoir of his grandparents' early life as new settlers to Palestine, Israeli author Shalev (A Pigeon and a Boy) evokes all his idealism and disappointments in Zionism. A new GE vacuum cleaner sent by Uncle Yeshayahu in America underscored for the hard-working migrants from Russia to mid-1930s Palestine their poverty and their pride: while Uncle Yeshayahu had gone to Los Angeles to become a rich businessman, his brother, Aharon, and sister-in-law, Tonia, migrated to Palestine, resolved to plow the land, creating a socialist state and 'foothold for persecuted and wandering Jews.' However, it was undeniably backbreaking labor, especially for the author's grandma Tonia, a woman originally from the Ukrainian village of Rokitno, who is obsessed with cleaning the dust from her house and jealously guards the 'svieeperrr' in the locked bathroom, never to use it again, mostly because it too will get dirty. The author joyfully remembers those days he spent as a boy with his grandparents in the bucolic Jezreel Valley, and in this quirky tribute commemorates the spirit of an exacting, tireless character who was 'the purified essence of us all, for better and worse.' (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
One of Israel’s most celebrated novelists, Meir Shalev was born in 1948 on Nahalal, Israel’s first moshav. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and have been best sellers in Israel, Holland, and Germany. Honors he has received include the National Jewish Book Award and the Brenner Prize, one of Israel’s top literary awards, for A Pigeon and a Boy. A columnist for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, he lives in Jerusalem and in the north of Israel.
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