Breezy chronicle of life with a hardworking Russian family headed by an obsessive matriarch with a “dirt phobia.”

Award-winning Israeli writer Shalev’s (Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible's Intriguing Firsts, 2010, etc.) delightful family memoir focuses on a joyful boyhood spent with his grandparents Aharon and Tonia through the decades following their migration to Palestine in the 1920s (both elders hailed from small Ukrainian villages). The author’s grandmother, Tonia, a practical, tightly-wound cleaning sensation, had always been a woman who methodically carried a dust rag on her shoulder, but the gift of a powerful General Electric vacuum sent from Shalev’s uncle was completely unexpected. The present both surprised and irritated Tonia and Aharon. Tonia was used to doing her own housekeeping unassisted by mechanical intervention, and Aharon felt it was a offering from a relative who’d swapped their adopted Zionistic beliefs for “American capitalism” by emigrating to Los Angeles, changing his name and becoming a businessman who reaped more self-satisfied rewards than the rest of the family. The author gleefully describes his hardworking grandmother’s eccentricities with affectionate amusement and without mockery. As a young boy, to help prepare for the family Seder, Shalev was allowed access to Tonia’s forbidden rooms, where he discovered abandoned furniture draped in “old-sheet shrouds,” as well as inside the typically locked, second bathroom, where the vacuum cleaner (her “svieeperrr”) sat, unused, for fear that it would become soiled if operated. The author unveils Tonia’s stringent unwillingness to allow visitors to traipse through the clean, carefully segregated house, preferring to entertain outside, and her startlingly outspoken declaration that “a young man should change girls like he does socks.” Rife with colloquialisms and native dialects, Shalev’s personal reflections of quirky uncles, family squabbles, the rich history of his Jewish heritage and the legacy of the omnipresent American vacuum touch the heart and tickle the funny bone. An unconventional and quite hilarious family scrapbook.


Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4287-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2011

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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