by Beth Kissileff
The anthology Tel Aviv Noir is the newest in a series of noir crime books published by Akashic set in cities all over the world: Delhi, Venice, Mexico City, Helsinki and Wall Street are among the destinations writers explore through stories of the illicit. Tel Aviv Noir is the first Israeli volume; a Jerusalem Noir is in the works too. If you are interested in great writing by the younger generation of Israeli writers (Gadi Taub, 49, and Shimon Adaf, 42, are among the oldest writers in the book, down to Gon Ben Ari, who is not yet 30), this volume will reward you. Jewish Book World had the chance to catch up with co-editors Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron by phone recently. Here are pieces of our conversation with each of them about the volume and Tel Aviv.
Beth Kissileff: How did you decide which writers to include in the anthology? What were your criteria?
Assaf Gavron: We wanted to give Israeli writers who are not yet translated into English an opportunity to publish in the U.S., people like Gadi Taub, Matan Hermoni, Shimon Adaf, whose work has appeared in the UK but not in the U.S.
The main theme is noir, and we expanded on that theme. The stories are not all classic noir. Akashic—the publisher—said that most collections in the series are a handful of classic detective stories, and a dark element of the city. That was the direction.
We worked out within each section a nice balance, a progress, from first to last. We started with lighter stuff and put the bodies at the end.
BK: What does it mean to be grouped with Teheran Noir and other cities?
AG: It is nice. I think Tel Aviv deserves its status as an interesting city, with culture and literature and with noir as well as everywhere in the world. I like to be grouped with other cities in the world, and not in the usual context that Israel is given.
BK: A question about your story, “Center.” If the people in the company need proof that the guy is dead, why do they hide the body?
AG: They are not professional detectives or murderers. By the time they figure out what to do, they get caught.
I like the location of Dizengoff Center, since it is full of different parts that are distinct. There is a commercial part with an office building, there are shops, a car park, and bath and water and clubs, a whole world in one or two buildings. I like the idea of an amateur detective, who does things out of his own curiosity.
BK: Etgar, how did you get involved in doing Tel Aviv Noir?
Etgar Keret: I met Johnny Temple from Akashic, and he suggested to me that I edit Jerusalem Noir. I said, ‘I don’t live in Jerusalem, I don’t know it, call me if you do Tel Aviv Noir.‘
From the beginning, this was not a genre book. It is meant to reach writers who were not translated into English. It was very rewarding for us as editors.
BK: What has the reaction been?
EK: The anthology just came out in Israel, and what I liked about it is that everyone has different favorites; as somebody who had published short story collections that is a good thing. There is something about an anthology when it works. There is an amazing synergy, creating a greater whole.
To be honest, when we worked on this, we looked at it as a collection of stories by young Israeli writers to be published in the States, and we thought about the American reader. That was the prime goal and as a bonus it was published in Israel. The best case is if people reading it will catapult these writers and get them published in the States.
BK: How can we get more Israeli writers, and a variety of them, to be known better in English?
EK: Well, what I think is that it is not a uniquely Israeli problem. There are many great writers, and getting translated is difficult. I can talk to foreign publishers, and see how they just met five other writers from five other countries who recommend other writers.
Literary fiction is not extremely commercial anywhere.
BK: Tell me about your sense of Tel Aviv?
EK: I’ve traveled and seen other cities, and Tel Aviv contains all the qualities and advantages of a big city with those of a small town.
In Tel Aviv, if you go to the old bus center station early on Sunday morning, you see many well-dressed African families going to church. You feel like you are in a different place, people speak a different language, and there’s a different social structure, like in Deakla Kaydar’s story.
If you don’t look for this, or find yourself in one of these places by accident, this life exists in this place you feel you know like the back of your hand. For instance, Allenby Street; my son and I know it well, and go there tons of times. I know stores and shop owners, but after 11 PM, it is a totally different city, different drives, different motivations, almost like a parallel place that exists under your nose.
Beth Kissileff is the editor of Reading Genesis (Continuum Books, 2014) an anthology of academic writing about Genesis. Her novel Questioning Return is under review for publication and she is writing a second novel and volume of short stories. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College.