The ProsenPeople

Interview: Etgar Keret

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 | Permalink

by Becca Kantor

Israeli author Etgar Keret is internationally known for his short stories, graphic novels, and screenplays. His latest book, The Seven Good Years, is his first work of nonfiction. The memoir spans the period of Keret’s life between the birth of his son and the death of his father.

Becca Kantor: The Seven Good Years is your first autobiographical work. In the past you’ve published several short story collections, and this memoir is also written as a series of vignettes. What in particular attracts you to the short form? What inspired you to turn the experiences you describe in The Seven Good Years into an autobiographical work and not into fiction?

Etgar Keret: I don’t experience my fiction and nonfiction as short, but as concise. There is something very intensive and full of energy in my writing experience. I once said that, for me, writing feels very much like an explosion—and I haven't yet learned how to explode slowly.

As for my personal nonfiction writing: I think that the urge to directly document some of my personal experiences began, literally, the day my son was born. It is as if my entire conception of time had changed and I no longer lived in a never-ending present. Becoming a father made the terms “past” and “future” become more tangible, and overnight I became my family’s historian. The idea to make a book out of these pieces documenting the life of my family between the birth of my son and the death of my father became clear only very close to my father's death.

BK: Tell me about the title. Did you always have “the seven good years” as a unifying theme for the memoir, or did the idea for the title come later on in your process? The biblical allusion is also very intriguing.

EK: The working title was “Insincerely Yours,” but as soon as my father died I found myself returning to The Seven Good Years both because those years in which I had the gift of being both a child and had a father were probably the best I've ever had, and also because I couldn’t ignore the parallel between my father's terminal illness and the unstable future of the country in which I live. This is because of the existential dangers it faces both from the changes in the region we live in, and from the changes in the Israeli society itself.

BK: In “Imaginary Homeland,” you describe your complicated feelings about Poland: “Although most of my family had perished under horrendous circumstances there, Poland was also the place where they had lived an thrived for generations, and my attraction to that land and its people was almost mythic.” Has your relationship with Poland changed as a result of the time you’ve spent there? Has living in Warsaw demythologized the city for you? If so, how do you feel about this as a writer?

EK: I have quite a few close and dear friends in Warsaw. I’m sure the intimacy I’ve reached with them had to do with the difficulty my family has had with the country. Next month I'll visit Warsaw with my family. My brother, my wife, my son, and I will join my mother for her first trip there since the war, and I have to admit that I'm both anticipating and dreading this upcoming trip. Poland might become demythologized for me at some point, but that time seems—at least for now—as though it will be in the distant future.

BK: You write about your heightened awareness of being Jewish when you’re outside Israel—especially when you’re in Eastern Europe and Germany. Do you feel that your books have helped to normalize Jewish people for those who haven’t had much previous contact with them? Has this ever been a conscious goal for you when you write?

EK: I don't have any conscious goals or articulated plans when I sit down and write, but writing, when it finds a curious reader, has the tendency to humanize. That's why I've always loved reading and that is also, I guess, why I began to write. The Seven Good Years has already been published in quite a few countries. From readers’ responses I've felt that, more than it has humanized Jews in the eyes of non-Jewish readers, it has humanized Israelis in the eyes of many Europeans whose information about Israel comes mostly from news shows and news magazines. Reading about the parental problems a person experiences when he is caught in the middle of the street with his seven-year-old child in the middle of a missile attack seems to transcend—at least with some of the book's readers—political views, and reminds them for a moment that the human experience is more complex and ambiguous than a Star Wars movie.

BK: When your first book came out in Poland, your mother told you that you weren’t an Israeli writer, but rather a “Polish writer in exile.” Your father certainly seems to have shared your love of storytelling and your ability to address tragedy through sympathetic humor. How much do you feel your parents influenced style of writing?

EK: I think that my parents had a huge effect on my writing. The bedtime stories they invented formed the most powerful storytelling experience I've ever had. My father's infinite empathy and compassion for people together with my mother's amazing imagination were the best advertisements a kid could have had for humanity and mankind. I think that the fairy-tale quality of many of my stories comes from my continuous, unconscious attempt to echo something from those amazing bedtime stories that had a crucial role in forming my identity and yearnings as a child.

BK: Can we look forward to more autobiographical works from you in the future—or to works inspired by family history?

EK: The prime catalyst to publish this book was the death of my father. I think that this book is my way of saying goodbye to him. But my default when it comes to writing has been, and probably will always be, fiction. So I don't really see myself returning to writing nonfiction in the near future.

Becca Kantor received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She has lived in Estonia, England, and Germany; currently she lives and writes in her native Philadelphia.

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Digging Deeper Into the New Anthology Tel Aviv Noir

Monday, October 27, 2014 | Permalink

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.

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What Do We Have in Our Pockets?

Sunday, January 20, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

A most unusual love story unravels when the objects in a young man's pockets come to life. 
Written and Directed by Goran Dukic, based on the short story by Etgar Keret.

Created by launching Literature into the 21st century.

Something out of Something

Thursday, February 02, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In conjunction with his new story collection, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, Etgar Keret and his publisher, FSG, have teamed up with BOMB Magazine to host a design contest. The contest, Something out of Something, encourages readers, artists, and designers to draw inspiration from Etgar's work and create visual art of their own. The submissions are published on the Something out of Something Tumblr, where they can be commented on and viewed by other readers. Twenty-five finalists will be selected on March 15th and the finalists' work will be sold at a silent auction on April 29th, with proceeds to benefit the PEN American Center. Visit Something out of Something to view the entries, read more about the contest, and dig deeper into the world of Etgar Keret. 

Etgar Keret on n+1

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

n+1 offers a preview of Etgar Keret's latest book of short storiesSuddenly a Knock at the Door, not yet published in English, here. “Black and Blue” is translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger.

In the ER they said the bone was fractured and the muscle was nearly torn in two places. Some people, the doctor said, can walk away from a 50-mile-an-hour head-on collision without a scratch. Once there was this woman who arrived in the ER, a fat lady who’d fallen out of her third-floor apartment onto the asphalt, and all she had was a black and blue mark on her backside. Read On.

Movies and Music plus Jewish Authors

Friday, April 09, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Two of our favorite authors delve into the world of film and music:

Etgar Keret on adapting his work for the screen for Jewcy here

Jennifer Gilmore shares her Something Red music playlist with the Largehearted Boy here

Etgar Keret on Fat Cats

Friday, January 22, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Etgar Keret writes for Tablet mag about “Fat Cats:”

Ehud Olmert, like the author’s son, believes in the feline defense: ‘I’m a cat, not a regular person, and the rules don’t apply to me’

Finding Keret: Two Israeli Editors Discuss the Author’s Discovery

Friday, April 24, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Words Without Borders presents “Finding Keret: Two Israeli Editors Discuss the Author’s Discovery:”

The two Israeli editors who brought Etgar Keret to national attention met recently to reminisce for the record about their brief but memorable association with him. Hannan Hever and Moshe Ron had a history of collaboration on various editorial and writing ventures going back to the early 1980s. By 1991, they were co-editing a fiction series for the venerable Israeli publishing company, Am Oved. Their series was meant to serve as a hothouse for new talent and non-mainstream fiction. Etgar Keret was their most notable Israeli discovery. For this conversation, they convened at Café Nehama Vahetzi in Tel Aviv.—Adam Rovner

Read the conversation here.