Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shalev on the Lighter Side

I really enjoy Hebrew writer Meir Shalev’s books, and each of his books in English translation, The Blue Mountain, Esau, A Pigeon and a Boy, offer a rare and unique vision.   

Shalev is a shrewd commentator on the old dreams of labor, agrarian, socialist Zionism.  He uses humor, satire, and outrageous situations to great effect to highlight the gap between the dream and the reality of the Zionist situation.

In his memoir, My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner, Shalev falls a bit off the mark of his steady balance between humor and biting commentary, presenting us with a memoir that is full of emotions that border on sentiment, and situations that are so shrouded in nostalgia that the narrative voice comes across as somewhat fake. 

To be fair, Shalev does remind us that the characters in this book were very flawed, especially the obviously domineering and autocratic grandmother, but despite this, he insists on wrapping everything in a patina of good feelings and nostalgia. 

This does not make for a bad book, but does make a book that lacks  heft.  It is a light read from a writer who usually delivers far heavier goods.

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