Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Svieeperrr

After reading Meir Shalev's wonderful A Pigeon and a Boy several months ago, I decided that I liked Meir Shalev. I began to read The Blue Mountains a few months ago, but set it aside due to certain circumstances that kept me from reading it through. Then, a few days ago, I decided to have a go at Shalev's most recent publication My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner (to be published in English at the end of 2011).

I suppose it's because I take reviews and opinions with a grain of salt, but I really didn't expect this book to be quite as awesome as it was. Shalev admits that this memoir (or "family memoir", as it seems it will be called in English) isn't a grand, huge book. He writes (somewhat edited in length; rough translation is my own):
"It went like this..."
The grand story of my great big family is one I might someday write in another book. I'll write about my parents, and their parents, about river crossings and the trials they overcame. I'll describe their physical hardships and the eternal heartaches. [...]

If I write this book - it won't be written today, nor tomorrow nor in the coming years. I'll write it when I'm an older man, calmer and more apologetic - and I'm not certain I'll fulfill this promise either. In the meantime, in this small book, I seek to tell only one story: the story of my grandmother Tonya and the vacuum cleaner my uncle sent her from the United States.
This one small story is, in truth, built around many other small entertaining stories, sometimes educational, sometimes sad and sometimes incredibly funny. There are moments of pure awkwardness (made more uncomfortable when one realizes that the stories are true), moments of utter insanity and a lot of touching scenes that make this book wonderfully real. It tells snippets of Shalev as an author (pointing out scenes and characters that Shalev reworked for his fiction, which incidentally enough leads me straight back to The Blue Mountains), includes an abridged family saga and showcases the importance of stories. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the English-speaking world will accept this most Israeli of tales.


  1. I've been curious about Shalev (but lazy!) for some time so was glad to see this post. Do you have any recommendation on where to start reading Shalev in English translation? Thanks!

  2. A Pigeon and a Boy. No doubt about it.


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