My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir Spiral-Bound | January 2, 2018
Meir Shalev, Evan Fallenberg (Translated by)
★★★☆☆+ from 1,001 to 10,000 ratings
My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir
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.
“Lighthearted yet meaningful . . . As I read this, I felt like I was one of Meir Shalev’s cousins, sitting out behind his grandmother’s house, listening to a great retelling of a story I knew by heart . . . A book for everyone.”
“Probably one of the most enjoyable books ever written about obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
“Evan Fallenberg’s translation is nimble and sensitive . . . At once a mystery story, a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the Labor Zionists of the early twentieth century, a moving family memoir, and, above all, a vivid, affectionate tribute to Grandma Tonia, who must now take her rightful place as one of history’s most redoubtable matriarchs. Unfailingly charming.”
—Words Without Borders
“A loving and humorous family story about Israel’s pioneers and their offspring.”
—Die Welt (Germany)
“An unconventional and quite hilarious family scrapbook . . . Shalev’s reflections on quirky uncles, family squabbles, the rich history of his Jewish heritage, and the legacy of the omnipresent American vacuum cleaner touch the heart and tickle the funny bone.”