November 21, 2012 | by Rebecca Sacks
It’s prime rocket-time in Tel Aviv and I have to pee. This is a totally legitimate concern, but one which I am still not able to bring up to my Israeli friends: bathroom timing. The last place you want to be during a rocket is the bathroom, I hear. The tiles and glass make it really, really dangerous. We only get one, maybe two sirens a day in Tel Aviv. So the chances are pretty slim. But can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to explain that to someone? “These scars I earned during the bombing of 2012, while I was on the can.”
The first time I heard a bomb siren all I could think was “The VengaBus is Coming.” I was in a café in the north of Tel Aviv, trying to read a menu upside-down. (I’m learning Hebrew.) There had been news of escalated bombings in the south, but that was all very far from Tel Aviv. Well, nothing is particularly far geographically in Israel, but Tel Aviv is a world away. The city has a way of blocking out the din of conflicts within Israeli society, as well as pressures from the antagonistic forces surrounding its borders. The pathological determination of the Tel Avivi not to let anything fuck with their shit is hard to underestimate. It’s a bit like the way girls look straight ahead when they don’t want to acknowledge some creepy guy doing the “psst, psst” holler from a moving car. Read More »
May 1, 2012 | by Rebecca Sacks
In 2006, the great book-blurber and novelist Gary Shteyngart called Etgar Keret’s The Nimrod Flipout “the best work of literature to come out of Israel in the last five thousand years—better than Leviticus and nearly as funny.” Keret may indeed be the most loved and widely read Israeli writer working today. He is known for his very short short stories, which are often described as “surreal” and “absurd.” It’s certainly the case that they do not adhere to the laws of the physical universe.
In his most recent collection, Suddenly, a Knock at the Door (published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a talking fish grants wishes; a woman unzips her boyfriend to reveal the German gentile inside; a middle-aged man is kidnapped and taken to his childhood. But at the heart of Keret’s writing is a deep compassion. His characters may be enmeshed in paradoxes unique to Israel—with its fraught borders, fragmented populations, and newly ancient language—but it’s always their humanity that shines through.
Keret is also a filmmaker. With his wife, Shira Geffen, he directed Jellyfish (2009), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and has had his work adapted to film, including Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006). Over the course of two weeks, during which his father passed away from cancer (he has written about his father for Tablet), Keret generously corresponded over e-mail for this interview.