By Bonnie Gratch Lindauer
One of the early comments at our Sunday, March 25th discussion probed the original Hebrew title, “Davar Hayah Kakhah,” Certainly those three words didn’t equate with the English title “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner”! After some discussion we agreed the Hebrew title’s literal translation was the first line of the book and one of Meir Shalev’s Grandmother’s Tonia’s favorite expressions: “This I How It Was.”
Most of us enjoyed the charming, playful and humorous portrayal of the author’s maternal family. His mother parents were among the moshavniks of Nahalal, Israel’s first moshav. Like a crisp caricature, each relative’s unique and idiosynractic traits come alive with Meir Shalev’s nostalgic brushstrokes. We all enjoyed learning more about these early pioneers from the Second Aliyah, as their daily chores and heavy tasks of an agricultural life were described from the eyes of the author as a child and young man.
Not everyone enjoyed the memoir to the same extent. Several felt that sections of the book dragged, some characters were not well developed, and that perhaps it would have been better as a short story. But everyone had something to say about the eccentric, obsessive-compulsive Grandmother Tonia, her war against dirt, and her strange relationship with a General Electric vacuum cleaner sent to her by her husband’s American, capitalist brother. You just have to read it to learn how so many different versions of their family history, stories, and memories add up to a rich, touching and overall enjoyable story.