My Russian Grandmother And Her American Vacuum Cleaner – by Meir Shalev (2011)



This short biography is a fun, quirky read. The author’s grandmother, Tonia, left Russia in 1923 to relocate to Palestine. The book tells of the extended family’s pioneer life in the settlement of Nahalal. The story jumps back and forth between recollections of aunts and uncles and cousins, and tales of Tonia herself. She was fanatical about housekeeping, to the degree that her daughter often missed part of the school day because the ritual floor-scrubbing must be done until there was no speck of dirt in the mop bucket. (These days we would diagnose her as having OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder.)

One relative, Sam, chose to live in the United States, and Tonia never quite forgave him for leaving. At some point Sam, probably trying to make amends, found the most expensive vacuum cleaner he could buy, and had it shipped across the world to Tonia. It was the first vacuum cleaner, or sweeper as they called it, in the settlement, and was received with great awe and wonder. The tale of the vacuum is told in little segments sandwiched between humorous stories of family life.



Uncle Yitzhak did not tarry. He pulled away the sack and exposed Grandma Tonia’s sweeper to the eyes of the village. Jaws dropped. Eyes popped. Not everyone understood what they were seeing; there were those who thought this was some new kind of pesticide sprayer or a particularly elaborate milking machine of uniquely American invention, some automatic American milking machine that would follow cows through meadows. However, most of those present understood at once that this was yet another of those capitalist luxuries of the very worst kind, whose sole purpose is idleness and pampering. The bright glare from the chrome, the curvaceous body, the large wheels that attested to a fear of hard work – all these could not possibly coexist with the moshav constitution and its values, and the village comrades gritted their teeth, returned to their senses, and suppressed with iron fists whatever desire the object aroused.


Author: alwaysreading2014

I'm just a person with an intense love for reading!

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