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My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir Hardcover – 4 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken Books Inc (4 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242874
  • Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 2.3 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 412,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Meir Shalev was born in 1948 on Nahalal, Israel s first moshav, and is one of Israel s most celebrated novelists. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages and have been best sellers in Israel, Holland, and Germany. In 1999 the author was awarded the Juliet Club Prize (Italy). He has also received the Prime Minister s Prize (Israel), the Chiavari (Italy), the Entomological Prize (Israel), the WIZO Prize (France, Israel, and Italy), and for A Pigeon and a Boy, the Brenner Prize, Israel s highest literary recognition. A columnist for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Shalev lives in Jerusalem and in northern Israel with his wife and children.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Oct 2011
Format: Hardcover
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...more 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?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
if you only read one book this year - it is this - a master story teller and I hoovered it up!
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By Mia on 13 Jan 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Meir Shalev and this is my first time reading his book in English (usually reading in Hebrew) - very good translation, sentimental funny heart warming book, which takes me back to my childhood in Israel. I have recommended this book to my Mother , who can easily pass as a "Savta Tonia" in her own special way.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 80 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
FABULOUS--Perfect for a Book Club 2 Sep 2011
By Wandering Hoosier - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I happened to be on vacation when I started reading Meir Shalev's "My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner" and could not put it down. The book is a fabulous vacation read as well as a book to enjoy as a break from more serious endeavors. Most of all, it is the perfect book for a book club, as it has wonderful fodder for a group to discuss.

Shalev 's most recent book is a recollection of the life of his family, especially the life of his maternal grandmother and her influence on the family. Grandma Tonia grew up in a small, Russian village and came to Palestine and a young maid. She soon thereafter married her deceased sister's ex-husband, Aharon, and raised a family in an early farming community in rural Palestine.

Aharon and Tonia were the first group of settlers in Nahalal, Palestine, and throughout his book, Shalev weaves in wonderful stories of the hardships their harships on the moshav. Primarily, though, Shalev relates stories about the cleanliness Tonia required in her small house located in the middle of dirt, fields, and livestock. He explains that nobody could use the house's only bathroom for fear of soiling it and that only few were ever allowed to enter the house through the front door.

One day, Aharon's brother sends Tonia the best GE vacuum 'svieeperrr' that money could buy and sent it by ship and horseback to Nahalal. Instead of using the vacuum to clean, however, Tonia ended up storing it in the house's closed bathroom. Accordingly, family stories started to circulate about the vacuum and Shalev shares them in his book.

I loved reading about Shalev's family and the thoughtful stories that he told. His comments about his family are hilarious. I can only imagine how furious some of his relatives must be after reading this book. I also enjoyed learning about the lives of the early Palestinian settlers who arrived to a desert without electricity, water, and other basic conveniences that Israelis now enjoy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A lyrical, quirky, and endearing memoir 22 Nov 2011
By Jojoleb - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner, Meir Shalev writes a lyrical, quirky, and endearing memoir of his grandmother Tonia. The book's strange contrast of humor and pathos make this small volume a quick, enjoyable, and meaningful read.

The main subject of the memoir is Shalev's grandmother Tonia. Tonia moved to Palestine from Russia in 1923. Tough as nails from a spartan life in Russia and in Nahalal, the first Moshav (collective agricultural settlement) in Israel, Tonia's main objectives seem to be raising her family and eliminating every speck of dirt from her house (not necessarily in that order).

The vacuum in question, was a gift from Tonia's brother-in-law. Given the socialism of the Moshav and Israel in general at the time, the brother-in-law was generally considered persona-non-grata--he lived in America and wholly embraced capitalism. But when the vacuum arrived on the doorstep, Tonia couldn't resist such an implement that could remove dust better than any mop or cloth. (Of course, when she finds out that the vacuum doesn't exactly eliminate dust--it simply sucks it up into a repository within itself--Tonia is appalled and banishes the vacuum to a storage closet.)

Through stories about removing mud and dust from the house, Shalev traces his own relationship with his grandmother (and the vacuum). Characters in the book abound, but they are all treated with care and respect and therefore never become caricatures. Shalev may tell humorous tales of his quirky relatives, but at the same time never uses them as foils or simply for comic relief. What we have here are well rounded portraits of of the Shalev family members.

The author opens the door wide with this endearing memoir. It is filled with enough detail that by the end you almost feel as though you are part of the Shalev family. In the end you are treated to a true slice of life from a pivotal era in Israeli history.

Interestingly, the poetry of the text, as translated by Evan Fallenberg, is astounding. When I read it, it almost felt as though I was reading it in Hebrew. I have not obtained a copy of this book in the original, but the rhythms and patterns of the words feel truly authentic. Kudos to Fallenberg for such an authentic translation.

Highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A glimpse into "old Israel" 31 Oct 2012
By Erez Davidi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
At the outset, I would like to point out that I read the book in Hebrew; therefore, I am reviewing the content of the book rather than the quality of the translation, and not whether the translator was able to convey the "essence" of the book. Since this book has various references to Israeli culture and a lot of "word games", which are nearly impossible to translate to English, I am somewhat curious to read the English translation of this book.

"My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner" is part family memoir and part memoir of "old Israel." The story revolves around Grandma Tonia and her GE vacuum cleaner. Grandma Tonia was one of the first settlers in Nahalal, which is located in the north part of Israel. Grandma Tonia is what we will call today a "neat freak"; her best friend is a rag, which is always located on her shoulder just in case she will randomly run into a lawless stain. On every doorknob, she places a rag so - God forbid - it won't get dirty when someone opens the door. She sends people to shower outside so the shower won't get dirty: a true "neat freak." The plot thickens when her brother-in-law, who lives in the US, sends her a new GE vacuum cleaner. This book is not only a family memoir, however. It is also a memoir of a time, already forgotten, of "old Israel" when life was much simpler. Shalev's writing is beautiful and this book will make you laugh and long for the good old times.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is how it was! 14 Feb 2012
By Grandma - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Meir Shalev's grandmother Tonia came to the land that would become Israel as a schoolgirl. One of the early settlers of the oldest moshav* in Israel, Tonia was a woman far ahead of her times, possessed of attitudes and ideas some of which even modern women might do well to emulate. Tonia was a true Woman of Valor and Shalev's humorous, moving and often insightful tribute to her in My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir makes it perfectly clear just exactly why he is not only one of the top authors in Israel, but internationally as well.

Just how, exactly, did this Russian immigrant with a great aversion to dirt (some might almost say that she was OCD about dirt) come to own one of the fanciest American vacuum cleaners to be had? And why, exactly did she keep that vacuum cleaner locked up in the bathroom, unseen by even her closest family members, for more than 40 years? Inquiring minds - including those of all the members of her family - are dying to know, but I'll let Shalev tell you the tale.

Highly recommended. Recipient of Grandma's Worth Reading Twice Award.

*A Moshav is a type of Israeli farming community where farms & houses are individually owned, but labor and equipment is often shared communally. In contrast, the Kibbutz settled at the same time were communally owned in toto, with communal housing, dining and childcare.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
About grandmothers 13 Dec 2011
By Amos B. Cutler - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. The grandmother is a complex character: likable at times and an obsessive neurotic grandmother in other times. The story described how tough life was for the farmers who lived on the Moshav. They worked all the time and struggled to provide for their families. At the same time the family bonds describe a loving family that helps and nurtures each other. There is a continuum. Through the stories and the unique expressions, the memory of family members are preserved and gets passed to the next generation. The stories, the family, and time, all come together and create a unique but also universal tale. I highly recommend this book.
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