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My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Campbell

    I'm not Jewish. I know next to nothing about Jewish culture, religion or, indeed, the geography of Israel. None of that matters, this book was a joy. Funny and touching, it glitters and sparkles with the love of life and the dancing reflections of familial relations. It's particularly well-written, too; every so often a fragment of prose fairly bursts from the text, demanding and capturing the reader's attention with a particulary resplendent turn of phrase, replete with beauty and meaning. "Althou I'm not Jewish. I know next to nothing about Jewish culture, religion or, indeed, the geography of Israel. None of that matters, this book was a joy. Funny and touching, it glitters and sparkles with the love of life and the dancing reflections of familial relations. It's particularly well-written, too; every so often a fragment of prose fairly bursts from the text, demanding and capturing the reader's attention with a particulary resplendent turn of phrase, replete with beauty and meaning. "Although it was forbidden, my mother allowed me to stick my head and arms a little way out the window, and the wind drew smiles on my face" " "I remember the day your father brought her from the valley to Jerusalem," he said. "She was like a large red flower atop the stones of this sad town". " And countless others. Try this, I implore you. It will make your life that much svieeter. -oOo- Finally, thank you, Meirav, for such a recommendation of shimmering splendour. -oOo-

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    absolutely outstanding

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This is a charming and fun book, though it felt a bit too long at times. We get to know Shalev's family, not only the titular grandmother, Tonia. As the story meandered along on it's good-humored way, it became clear that Shalev, the "writer" in the family, is just one in a long line of story-tellers, in every sense of the word. The family lived on and got through the best and worst of times through storytelling. If stories were "embroidered" and everyone's version of an event was different and This is a charming and fun book, though it felt a bit too long at times. We get to know Shalev's family, not only the titular grandmother, Tonia. As the story meandered along on it's good-humored way, it became clear that Shalev, the "writer" in the family, is just one in a long line of story-tellers, in every sense of the word. The family lived on and got through the best and worst of times through storytelling. If stories were "embroidered" and everyone's version of an event was different and caused friction, well, that was just fodder for more stories. In between and through the stories about Tonia and her "sweeper," I learned something about the killing work demanded of the early Jewish settlers in Palestine and the different ideologies that they lived by and, at times, divided them. But, all this is told through humorous anecdotes. Nothing heavy and ponderous here. I'm still smiling about one story Shalev tells towards the end of the book about bringing a girlfriend to his grandmother's house. The book is worth reading for that story, alone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I enjoyed 'My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Clear' a great deal. It does tend to meander a little. Sometimes the meandering just enriches the main story; sometimes I think it is actually material for a different book. Meir Shalev's grandmother is the star of this book. Grandmother Tonya was a "character". She was born in Russia and immigrated to Palestine. The author has told of Tonya’s character, goals, likes and dislikes through many humorous stories, most of which are in some wa I enjoyed 'My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Clear' a great deal. It does tend to meander a little. Sometimes the meandering just enriches the main story; sometimes I think it is actually material for a different book. Meir Shalev's grandmother is the star of this book. Grandmother Tonya was a "character". She was born in Russia and immigrated to Palestine. The author has told of Tonya’s character, goals, likes and dislikes through many humorous stories, most of which are in some way or another connected with the vacuum cleaner made by General Electric. Tonya had certain phrases that she used often that became her trademark, like starting a family story with ‘This is how it was”. What enchanted me the most about this book is that even though she had an entirely different background from my grandmother, there were some stunning similarities? Both came from farming families. Both had spouses who would just take off at times. Both refused to be idle. Both hated dirt violently. Both used the porch for snapping green beans and plucking chicken feathers off of the future star of the chicken soup. Both demanded that we do not enter through the front door but a different one. Both had their grandchildren be very economical in their trips inside and out. Tonya asked that the trash be taken out by the grandchild; my grandmother asked that the slop for the pigs be taken out. Coming back in, the grandchild, both asked the grandchild to bring eggs back. But what about the American Vacuum Cleaner? It was a gift to her out of spite for her husband from Uncle Yeshayahu, aka Uncle Sam who lived in Los Angeles. There is a long involved story connected to why this gift was made. You will need to read why was it kept locked up? What after she died, what became of it? Several more stories that explain that or maybe don’t explain what happened to the vacuum cleaner. Meir Shalev, weaves the family stories about the main events in his grandmother’s life. As he mentions, there are exaggerations as time goes on. But the stories will make you laugh out loud and set you to thinking. One of my favorites is the author wearing read nail polish on his feet, why this happened and the significance of this act. Meir Shalev is a superb storyteller. I believed that he learned this from his grandmother and his many relatives. Storytelling enriches and explains the family. Don’t miss this book if you love family stories. I received this book from the Amazon Vine program but that in no way influenced my review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alice Meloy

    Shalev, author of A Pigeon And A Boy, writes with humor and love about growing up in Israel as a part of a family of Russian emigrants. His grandmother came to Israel in 1923, married and raised a family, constantly struggling to keep her house clean in the dusty Jezreel Valley. When Grandma Tonia's brother-in-law sent her a vacuum cleaner from America, she used it only once, and hidden away to keep it from getting dirty, the vacuum cleaner became almost mythological to Shalev as he grew up. Thi Shalev, author of A Pigeon And A Boy, writes with humor and love about growing up in Israel as a part of a family of Russian emigrants. His grandmother came to Israel in 1923, married and raised a family, constantly struggling to keep her house clean in the dusty Jezreel Valley. When Grandma Tonia's brother-in-law sent her a vacuum cleaner from America, she used it only once, and hidden away to keep it from getting dirty, the vacuum cleaner became almost mythological to Shalev as he grew up. This is a lovely little memoir that examines family history, story telling and the making (and making up) of memories. I enjoyed A Pigeon and A Boy. This memoir is a much more accessible and appealing book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    K

    Nothing earthshattering, but cute and charming and engaging. In this memoir of his grandmother's fanatical housekeeping, Shalev gives you a sense of the people, the place, and the time. And there was one scene which I found absolutely hysterical. Incidentally, my husband liked this a lot more than I did which is pretty unusual. So you may want to give it a try despite my lukewarm recommendation. I suspect, though, that a sentimental interest in the time period and its people is helpful.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terry Caldwell

    I have had a hard time rating this book. I wanted to love it. I did like it. I hard a hard time getting through it though and it’s a short book. I fell asleep every few pages. On one hand, that irked me. On the other, I was impressed with the authors ability to put me to sleep so quickly. Even though I was reading (not an audiobook) it felt like a nighttime story. So, 3 or 4 stars depending. Right now I’m not feeling generous with the extra star.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Do you have any relatives? Then you'll love this entirely remarkable book. Meir Shalev's grandmother Tonia may be a Ukrainian by birth, and a member of a small agricultural settlement in Israel by marriage and fate, and she may be crazier than any of your kin, but you'll be amused, touched and moved by her. Everyone needs an enemy, Shalev tells us, and Tonia's was dirt. She drove herself and everyone around her to keep her house clean. Surrounded by fields and roads that were, in turn, muddy and Do you have any relatives? Then you'll love this entirely remarkable book. Meir Shalev's grandmother Tonia may be a Ukrainian by birth, and a member of a small agricultural settlement in Israel by marriage and fate, and she may be crazier than any of your kin, but you'll be amused, touched and moved by her. Everyone needs an enemy, Shalev tells us, and Tonia's was dirt. She drove herself and everyone around her to keep her house clean. Surrounded by fields and roads that were, in turn, muddy and dusty, she developed ways to keep things clean, cleaner than her neighbors, cleaner than her sisters-in-law. There are other relatives as well, of course, including the brother-in-law who had the vacuum cleaner sent to Tonia (for whatever reasons of his own), and who can't believe what she does with the appliance. And there's Shalev's beloved mother, the story-teller, the glue of the family, who died too soon. Special mention should be made of Evan Fallenberg, who translates Shalev's Hebrew so fluently that for a while I assumed that Tonia was speaking English.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I expected this book to be a somewhat lighthearted remembrance of a grandmother and her adjustment problems to the advent of modern technology. Instead this book told the story of a dirt obsessed woman who would not let people use the bathroom or other rooms in her house because they would dirty them. Literally people had to shower outside and wash in a trough. She wouldn't use her vacuum cleaner once she realized that the dirt went inside and, by her lights, would therefor have to be totally di I expected this book to be a somewhat lighthearted remembrance of a grandmother and her adjustment problems to the advent of modern technology. Instead this book told the story of a dirt obsessed woman who would not let people use the bathroom or other rooms in her house because they would dirty them. Literally people had to shower outside and wash in a trough. She wouldn't use her vacuum cleaner once she realized that the dirt went inside and, by her lights, would therefor have to be totally disassembled and cleaned every day. Although I did finish the book and there were some good moments, overall it was very depressing. A women who escaped the progroms so obsessed by dirt that she could not appreciate her good fortune.

  10. 4 out of 5

    María

    After my first travel to Israel, somebody recommended me to read Meir Shalev. Trusting the good taste of Israeli people (delicious food by the way) I accepted the suggestion and chose this novel. I was immediately surprised by its hilarious irony, melt with a tender point of view on family and history. Shalev's voice is hidden behind this narrator: he describes (in the way stories must be properly described, that is to say: the way his family does) the way back to Palestine of his ancestors, born After my first travel to Israel, somebody recommended me to read Meir Shalev. Trusting the good taste of Israeli people (delicious food by the way) I accepted the suggestion and chose this novel. I was immediately surprised by its hilarious irony, melt with a tender point of view on family and history. Shalev's voice is hidden behind this narrator: he describes (in the way stories must be properly described, that is to say: the way his family does) the way back to Palestine of his ancestors, born in Ukraine; the difficulties of getting used to live in a different land and the arrival of the American modern way of life. A vacuum cleaner has never been so well turned into a clear metaphor of what we really want to preserve for ourselves. Like traditions inside families.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Louise Silk

    Meir Shalev is a fabulous writer and in this very funny and endearing memoir, he tells the story of his obsessively clean grandmother, Tonia, in relation to an American GE vacuum cleaner sent to her by her double traitor brother living in California. It is the story of Shalev's youth, of life on a moshav in Israel, of the idiosyncrasies of elders transplanted from the old country (in this case Russia) and the effect on modern conveniences on everyday life. The author has a hilarious way of tellin Meir Shalev is a fabulous writer and in this very funny and endearing memoir, he tells the story of his obsessively clean grandmother, Tonia, in relation to an American GE vacuum cleaner sent to her by her double traitor brother living in California. It is the story of Shalev's youth, of life on a moshav in Israel, of the idiosyncrasies of elders transplanted from the old country (in this case Russia) and the effect on modern conveniences on everyday life. The author has a hilarious way of telling a very personal story about his family and his upbringing with wit and humor that the reader is completely incorporated into the many points of view in family lore.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

    The cover of the English translation of this book does not do it justice. I went in thinking it would be a lighthearted look at an eccentric relative. Instead, it was a deep homage to a woman who came in the Third Aliyah to Palestine from Ukraine, before there was an Israel. It’s about her, the land she worked so hard to transform from dust into groves, about family, what it means to be Israeli and the descendant of immigrants, and about very many other things, including the namesake vacuum clea The cover of the English translation of this book does not do it justice. I went in thinking it would be a lighthearted look at an eccentric relative. Instead, it was a deep homage to a woman who came in the Third Aliyah to Palestine from Ukraine, before there was an Israel. It’s about her, the land she worked so hard to transform from dust into groves, about family, what it means to be Israeli and the descendant of immigrants, and about very many other things, including the namesake vacuum cleaner all the way from Los Angeles. This book has heart, soul, and true literary merit. I’ll be moving onto Shalev’s other works now.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This delightfully funny family memoir tells many versions of family stories about the author's unusual dirt-phobic grandmother and her shiny American vacuum cleaner sent her by a relative which she wrapped up and enshrined in an unused bathroom--because it got dirty during use and she couldn't abide anything dirty in her house. Along the way, the book also explores family dynamics, the incredible binding power of family story/myth, and the variable nature of family memory. Every bit as original This delightfully funny family memoir tells many versions of family stories about the author's unusual dirt-phobic grandmother and her shiny American vacuum cleaner sent her by a relative which she wrapped up and enshrined in an unused bathroom--because it got dirty during use and she couldn't abide anything dirty in her house. Along the way, the book also explores family dynamics, the incredible binding power of family story/myth, and the variable nature of family memory. Every bit as original and fun as it sounds.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hermien

    What a delightful book full of wonderful family stories of the Shalev family. The writer obviously draws a lot of inspiration from his own experiences as I recognised themes and events that appear in his books that I have read. I now look forward to reading the ones that I haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Lovely, lovely translation where the biblical references shine through. Funny memoir of a founding family in Israel, pathos and humor, and a charming end. Will definitely be racing to read more of Shalev, which I haven't, and to buy the book to have at the home library.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenia

    4.5 stars, great book!! Don't even know whether to round up or down. Thank you Lucy!

  17. 5 out of 5

    NyiNya

    19 year old Tonya arrived in Palestine in the early 1920s and declared war. No, not on the enemies of Zion, although she's not fond of them either. Tonya declared war on dirt. Fresh from the shtetl, Tonya meets and marries one of two brothers. Her choice is a scholar, a man not made for the backbreaking labor that a farm commune in Palestine requires. Had he gone to America, like his brother, perhaps he too would have been a wealthy man and Tonya a woman of leisure. But that's not who she picked 19 year old Tonya arrived in Palestine in the early 1920s and declared war. No, not on the enemies of Zion, although she's not fond of them either. Tonya declared war on dirt. Fresh from the shtetl, Tonya meets and marries one of two brothers. Her choice is a scholar, a man not made for the backbreaking labor that a farm commune in Palestine requires. Had he gone to America, like his brother, perhaps he too would have been a wealthy man and Tonya a woman of leisure. But that's not who she picked, and that's not what happened. Tonya stays in Palestine and obsesses over cleaning her house and maintaining order over everything, from the chickens in the coop to her five children. Palestine, given its desert location has more than it's share of dust, but Tonya will not tolerate so much as one speck. This balabusta (not what you think, it's Yiddish for the kind of woman who uses a toothpick to get that last spect of dust from around the light switch...but that first guess wasn't really off base either) becomes a molshavnik (an Israeli versionof Amish), raises a family, farms, helps tend the livestock and watches a unique experiment grow and become part of modern Israel. She never gives up her battle against grime or her penchant for creating aphorisms and colorful phrases. At first, it's entertaining. After a while, you remember why you don't spend more time with your own grandmother. The vacuum cleaner in question is a gift from her rich brother-in-law. The one who chose Los Angeles, not Palestine, and who got rich without having to scrape a living out of the desert sand. The traitor, as he is also known. The vacuum cleaner is a symbol. Actually it's a lot of symbols. It's symbolic of the easy life of the L.A. brother, symbolic of Tonya's obsession with cleaning, symbolic of America's effete values versus Israel's pioneering determination. There's more, but you get the drift. Anyway, the one thing this vacuum cleaner is not, is a cleaning tool. Tonya keeps it locked away...so it won't get dirty? As a repudiation of the brother in law's lifestyle choice? Who knows. And after a while, who cares. The book has some moderately funny lines. The molshavniks eschewed all things frivolous and when a woman wanted to slandar one of her sex, she would whisper: "I hear she goes by the manicurist too." When sufficiently incensed (when, for example, someone leaves a fingerprint on a drawer handle, Tonya will turn on the culprit, skewer them with a steely glare and snarl: "I'll take chunks out of you." Funny? Meh. My grandmother was funnier. And didn't just threaten you with chunking. She chunked. Author Shalev is a columnist in Israel. I suspect his is one of those folksy little columns where no cliche is ever turned away. The story is thin, the situations familiar, and Grandma's wit seems to have been harvested from every Yiddishe Momma's garden of verbal delights. So, as my grandmother would say, enough with it already, it should only go be healthy someplace else. Three stars because the book introduced me to the Molshavnik movement, which deserves further investigation.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erin Bottger (Bouma)

    This book is a total delight. Meir Shalev offers great storytelling in the Jewish tradition about the early years of Palestinian pioneers and his particular family in a particular village of Nahalal. At the center of it all is much-loved Grandma Tonia, from Russian Ukraine in 1923 and her constant obsession with cleaning in a dusty and mud ridden Israeli farming village. Small in stature, she is mighty in authority and influence and establishes ground rules never to be breached. She does struggle This book is a total delight. Meir Shalev offers great storytelling in the Jewish tradition about the early years of Palestinian pioneers and his particular family in a particular village of Nahalal. At the center of it all is much-loved Grandma Tonia, from Russian Ukraine in 1923 and her constant obsession with cleaning in a dusty and mud ridden Israeli farming village. Small in stature, she is mighty in authority and influence and establishes ground rules never to be breached. She does struggle with her husband, Aharon (ill-suited to farming and a determined socialist and Zionist) who wanders off from time to time to do something he is more comfortable doing. The Vacuum Cleaner arrives from Tonia's brother-in-law Yeshayahu, a "capitalist" businessman in Los Angeles, and becomes her treasured "svieeperrr" for two weeks until she discovers that it harbors the unwanted dirt it has collected, would need to be cleaned from time to time, and has a defective valve that would fail at some point. All this leads her to banish it to a locked bathroom, and the legend grew and grew. Shalev even gives the vacuum cleaner its own voice and character: "The village comrades regarded the vacuum cleaner, and the vacuum cleaner stared back at them. What it saw was hardworking people, work clothes, and strong hands. Their appearance attested to lives of moderation, simple food, a clear path. There were such farmers, it knew, in its homeland of America, but back there such a life came from a lack of choice while here-- it understood at one-- this was a matter of choice, a goal. There they went to work with stooped backs and listless eyes, while here Jewish farmers stood proud in their convictions. For an instant, the vacuum cleaner wished to withdraw, to return to its soft and pleasant cloth covering, to close itself into the cardboard box and seal itself beneath the beautiful American woman; it was meant for this woman, or someone like her, no matter if she was standing on her legs or upside down like a scallion. But then it caught sight of Grandma Tonia: no narrow hips, no painted lips, no manicured hands, no red and tempting smile. But she did not stand before it like some pillar of salt; instead, she uprooted herself from the members of her family and walked toward it. The vacuum cleaner had found its mistress and their covenant: together they would fight against dirt and dust." Meanwhile, the book weaves together rollicking tales of Tonia's extended family, Shalev's mother (Tonia's daughter), and a life full of grit and humor with multiple versions of many of the stories. This book is filled with family warmth, portraits of assorted kin and memorable experiences in the Palestinian Mandate that evolved into the state of Israel. I loved it and hope to read more in translation from this author.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill Meyer

    Israeli writer Meir Shalev has written a charming memoir about growing up in Israel in a family where cleanliness WAS more important than godliness, at least to his maternal grandmother, Grandma Tonia. She cleaned and scrubbed all day in her desert house in Palestine, where she had emigrated from Russia in the 1920's. She married her dead sister's widower - not exactly a match-made-in-heaven - and raised her family using strict guidelines of cleanliness, cleanliness, and cleanliness. She Israeli writer Meir Shalev has written a charming memoir about growing up in Israel in a family where cleanliness WAS more important than godliness, at least to his maternal grandmother, Grandma Tonia. She cleaned and scrubbed all day in her desert house in Palestine, where she had emigrated from Russia in the 1920's. She married her dead sister's widower - not exactly a match-made-in-heaven - and raised her family using strict guidelines of cleanliness, cleanliness, and cleanliness. She carried a cleaning rag over her shoulder and it was in constant use. Shalev's family were early settlers in the village of Nahalal. They and their extended family lived there and in neighboring villages. A few members of the family - like Shalev's own family - lived in Jerusalem, but spent enough time in Nahalal to be considered part of the village. But not all Grandma Tonia's family emigrated from Russia to Palestine; some went to the United States. Her brother-in-law, derided in the family for selling out to "capitalism" made a goodly fortune in Los Angeles, and, after sending money to his brother's family in Palestine which was sent back as "tainted", decided to send his sister-in-law a gift. A special gift that could not be as easily returned as an envelope of money. The gift he thought perfect for Tonia was a vacuum cleaner. A very large and expensive vacuum cleaner he thought would aid Tonia in her constant fight against the forces of nature. And so, in the mid-1930's, with special packaging and a lot of postage, the huge vacuum cleaner arrived in Nahalal, adressed to Grandma Tonia. It was opened in front of the villagers, exclaimed over, used once or twice by Tonia, and then...disaster. Where was all the dirt that the "svieeperrr" was picking up? The vacuum was opened, emptied, and Tonia was dismayed over the dirt that she now had to clean back up. The vacuum was put away, not to be used for another 40 years. The "svieeperrr" was the center of Meir Shalev's memoir, but it was equally about the, uh, "interesting" personalities in his maternal family. He writes beautifully and often gives thoughts to inanimate objects like the vacuum, but it all blends together in a charming story of old and new Israel.

  20. 5 out of 5

    A. S.

    “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner” by Meir Shalev, tells the story of his obsessive-compulsive grandmother Tonia, life in Israel, and growing up in a household so encompassed with cleaning that bathrooms are not used (Tonia prefers everyone to do their business outside) and cleaning products like a vacuum cleaner are locked up for fear of dirt contamination. Visitors are told to come to the house from the back, rather than the front door. And Meir’s mother and her sisters a “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner” by Meir Shalev, tells the story of his obsessive-compulsive grandmother Tonia, life in Israel, and growing up in a household so encompassed with cleaning that bathrooms are not used (Tonia prefers everyone to do their business outside) and cleaning products like a vacuum cleaner are locked up for fear of dirt contamination. Visitors are told to come to the house from the back, rather than the front door. And Meir’s mother and her sisters are late to school because their mother deems cleaning the house more important. That’s precisely the kind of atmosphere that we find the author in—whose portrayal of his grandmother Tonya (the one referred to in the title) both critical and loving. His stories are funny but sentimental at the same time. The time described in this book is one of innocence and scarcity. America is seen as a dreamy faraway land (even though Meir’s uncle moved there and is seen as the traitor of the family, despite sending the well-intentioned vacuum, cleaner mentioned in the title). Technology is very rare, as most of the work in the country and the house is done exclusively by physical labor. And the overall philosophy is reminiscent of the Cold War communism versus capitalism dynamic. The author has a hilarious way of telling stories, and the writing is inundated with that. Even though this was the first time I read Meir Shalev, I came away with the feeling that I somehow know the author personally. His family stories felt very open, with a certain rawness of truth behind them. It’s the kind of book where you laugh, you cry, and you reflect on your own family. I look forward to checking out Shalev’s other books. Recommended for fans of poignant yet funny memoirs.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    I started out liking the book but midway it began to annoy me. I wondered how an entire book could be sustained concerning a vacuum cleaner and an overly obsessive woman's view concerning dirt. The book was translated and there are several problems with the wording in many cases. Also, too many similes.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn R-B

    What a fun book. Recommended read particular for Israelis. One has to have some familiarity with the very early period after the establishment of the state of Israel, and the immigrants who live then. It is a funny and charming book. another note - the term לקצרץ comes from the German/Yiddish Kratzen = to scratch.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sheryl

    Meir Shalev describes how his family moved to and settled in Israel. His is a family of story tellers where they accuracy has never been the point. There are a lot of amusing incidents and quirky family members, but for me it didn't really gel as a whole.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    "This is how it was"... A-warm-wonderful-family story!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Extremely tedious I thought

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carol Catinari

    This book is a must read in so many ways. First of all, it's purely delightful. The writing and equally important, the translation are excellent. The characters in this book are indeed characters, wonderful characters. The story is told through the author's eyes: his family with all their quirks, love and family lore. Next, you get a view of what living in Israel, on a moshav, during one of the early aliyot to the country was like for these immigrants from Russia. You get a sense of the hard wor This book is a must read in so many ways. First of all, it's purely delightful. The writing and equally important, the translation are excellent. The characters in this book are indeed characters, wonderful characters. The story is told through the author's eyes: his family with all their quirks, love and family lore. Next, you get a view of what living in Israel, on a moshav, during one of the early aliyot to the country was like for these immigrants from Russia. You get a sense of the hard work, the strata of society, the tension between city folk and country folk, and the glue (sometimes loose) that holds a family together. Written with humor and an understated tenderness, I recommend this book highly.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I liked this book. I suspect I’ll remember it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    "Tonia was my grandmother, my mother's mother, and in my eyes, she was not at all crazy. She was different. She was distinctive. She was what we call a "character." To people who know me, my grandmother is a giantess- she is one of my favorite people on Earth, she is a friend, she is a mentor, she is a woman who has inspired and loved me so hard- and she's a woman of stories, of jokes, of so many tales she has yet to tell- and even more quirks. So maybe that's why this simple story, a memoir of Z "Tonia was my grandmother, my mother's mother, and in my eyes, she was not at all crazy. She was different. She was distinctive. She was what we call a "character." To people who know me, my grandmother is a giantess- she is one of my favorite people on Earth, she is a friend, she is a mentor, she is a woman who has inspired and loved me so hard- and she's a woman of stories, of jokes, of so many tales she has yet to tell- and even more quirks. So maybe that's why this simple story, a memoir of Zionist Israel in the 40's, 50's and 60's may seem so silly and unimportant to some, but to me, was a story of love, devotion, nostalgia- as well as a window into life as an early Zionist. I struggled a little with some of the Yiddish, but not too bad and it added to the authenticity of the story. It is also, as someone observed on the jacket, one of the best stories about OCD you'll ever read. I HIGHLY recommend this book- it would probably a great audio experience as well, it's about 200 pages, it won't take long and I think you'll laugh and be as charmed as I was.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kalen

    What a magnificent little book--a completely unexpected surprise. So funny, so touching, and a beautiful translation. There is a lot of word play in this book and the translation never falters, as can sometimes happen causing the reader to wonder if there isn't something you're missing that would make more sense in the original tongue. Beyond that, it's hard to talk about this book. I tried to explain it to my husband who gave me a raised eyebrow when I said, "It's about Grandma Tonia's vacuum c What a magnificent little book--a completely unexpected surprise. So funny, so touching, and a beautiful translation. There is a lot of word play in this book and the translation never falters, as can sometimes happen causing the reader to wonder if there isn't something you're missing that would make more sense in the original tongue. Beyond that, it's hard to talk about this book. I tried to explain it to my husband who gave me a raised eyebrow when I said, "It's about Grandma Tonia's vacuum cleaner." No, really, it is. It's about so much more, too, but yes, the whole of the book is about Grandma Tonia's American vacuum cleaner, a gift from her "double traitor" American brother-in-law. Read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    Every time I read this book I fight the urge to compulsively clean every corner of my house. Now, it has been a while since I read it, but it is utterly hilarious! It’s simply the story of a feisty, fiery Russian grandmother who is obsessed with eradicating all dirt from her surroundings. She has her systems to get this done- for instance, she carries a towel over her shoulder at all times so she can polish door knobs as she passes, and the floor must be washed and rinsed in numerous waters. The Every time I read this book I fight the urge to compulsively clean every corner of my house. Now, it has been a while since I read it, but it is utterly hilarious! It’s simply the story of a feisty, fiery Russian grandmother who is obsessed with eradicating all dirt from her surroundings. She has her systems to get this done- for instance, she carries a towel over her shoulder at all times so she can polish door knobs as she passes, and the floor must be washed and rinsed in numerous waters. The trouble begins when she is given a vacuum cleaner. Some misguided soul felt it would make her life easier, but they never realized this grandmother would wrestle with the gripping question: what does the vacuum do with the dirt it picks up?

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