The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret

imagesI’m not generally a fan of satirical writing. It’s a personal thing. I don’t mind a short piece of satire, but for some reason, a long novel or even a short story just doesn’t do it for me. And it’s not because I haven’t tried. I have. Truly. And not just in English but in Hebrew, too. Neither seems to stick and I could never wrap my head around the attraction of this genre. So now you’re asking, well if you don’t like satire, what’s with this review of Etgar Keret’s memoir The Seven Good Years?

Well, the honest truth is that I had the privilege of attending an event hosted by the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival where Etgar Keret read from his memoir, touching on some of the nuances which informed its writing and elucidating the textures of his relationship with his father. There was something magical about hearing Keret read his own work, something real and tangible and true. His reading made me revisit the books that I have of his in Hebrew and they seemed more palatable when I could hear his voice echoing in my head. I loved hearing Keret describe the absurdity of his wife going in to labour against the backdrop of a terrorist attack. The vignette is filled with such palpable wisdom and simultaneously opens a field of sorrow and it’s this attempt to reconcile the two states which is simply a true reflection of living in Israel.

Six hours later, a midget with a cable hanging from his belly-button comes popping out of my wife’s vagina and immediately starts to cry. I try to calm him down, to convince him that there’s nothing to worry about. that by the time he grows up, everything here in the Middle East will be settled: peace will come, there won’t be any more terrorist attacks – and even if once in a blue moon there is one, there will always be someone original, someone with a little vision, around to describe it perfectly. He quiets down and considers his next move. He’s supposed to be naive – seeing how he’s a newborn – be even he doesn’t buy it, and after a second’s hestitation and a small hiccup, he goes back to crying.

While the whole book didn’t sing to me in this fashion, there were enough moments to make it a memorable and worthwhile read. Moments which touched my soul – like his story about the Accident where he juxtaposes a taxi drivers obsession with a scratch to his cab with his emotional distress at his wife’s miscarriage and his father’s cancer.

Alone in the cab, I can feel the tears rising. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I want to be positive, like my dad. My wife is fine now and we already have a wonderful son. My dad survived the Holocaust and has reached the age of eighty-three. That’s not just a half-full glass; it’s an overflowing one. I don’t want to cry. Not in this taxi.

There is something very raw in the simplicity of Keret’s narrative and this trembling honesty appears specifically when he speaks about his family, and at times when he engages in a discussion about Israel.

And no, it’s not that we Israelis long for war or death or grief, but we do long for those ‘old days’the taxi driver talked about. We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada, when there was no black or white, only grey; when we were confronted not by armed forces but only by resolute young people wearing explosive belts; years when the aura of bravery ceased to exist, replaced by long lines of people waiting at our checkpoints, women about to give birth, and elderly people struggling to endure the stifling heat…. we’re no better than anyone else at resolving moral ambiguities. but we always did know how to win a war.

There have been many reviews of this memoir – the New York Times‘ Adam Wilson posits some interesting notions, specifically about what defines a ‘good year’, and The Guardian calls Keret “a master: bracing, compassionate, so absolutely himself”. Perhaps the essence of the magic of Keret’s writing is that he focuses so intently on life – “so it goes on. Life is lived, in spite of what is happening – and sometimes because of it.”

Am I a convert to satire as a genre? I don’t think so. But I do certainly appreciate the magic of Keret’s writing and his enormous contribution to the political commentary so closely associated with Israel and life there.

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