MY RUSSIAN GRANDMOTHER AND HER AMERICAN VACUUM CLEANER. 

By Meir Shalev.

Book review by Ross Hunter

There are not many books that get read in a single session – stay up all night, call in sick next morning if necessary. This is one of them. You have been warned.  You don’t need to have Russian ancestors, or American relatives; you don’t need to enjoy housework, or remember your Grandma; nor be Jewish not visit a kibbutz or moshav to love this story. All of these experiences are supplied. 

Mir Shalev is a very popular Israeli writer, eloquent and elegiac. His translator has done a fine job preserving the spirit of this tale. It is called ‘A Family Memoir’. Is it true? Who knows, or truly cares. It is entirely convincing. It will make you laugh and weep on successive pages. 

Grandma Tonia was a pioneer settler in Israel, from 1923, after leaving a Ukrainian village called Rokitno. Life in the desert was hard work, and required stamina, courage and immense belief in Israeli socialism. Idlers and the weak willed who opted for a soft and decadent life in California were to be despised, and distrusted. So an unexpected gift from there was seen as treachery not generosity, and treated with suspicion, moral and physical. Standards had to be maintained, and the inside of the house spotless and dustless. In a windy desert, where water is precious, already. A labour saving device, the “svieeperr” must be an evil temptation. Too wonderful to get dirty.

Tonia is everyone’s fussy, demanding, loving, exasperating Grandma. Her quirks and obsessions are unique and universal, and hilarious (from a safe distance). The tale writes itself, with bends to allow a bit of romance (aided by Grandma, aborted by the machine’s machinations) and an unsolved mystery (read it to find out).  An epic cameo, cheap and priceless.   

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