‘The Seven Good Years’ by Etgar Keret
- 1 of 2
- next ›
Etgar Keret is an Israeli author, essayist and filmmaker. He has published numerous collections of short fiction, written comedy for TV and is a regular on This American Life. The New York Times has proclaimed Keret a genius, but a descriptor that captures his unique charm would be more appropriate. This is his first nonfiction collection and it covers the years between the birth of his son, Lev, and the death of his father, Efraim. In the introduction he writes that this book is especially important to him “because it is about the people who are dearest to me in the world; because it puts me in a new place as a writer, an unfamiliar place, vulnerable and intimate”. That new place was “so frightening” that “I have decided not to publish this book in my mother tongue (Hebrew) or in the place where I live (Israel), but to share it only with strangers”.
Keret’s revelations can shock with their nakedness. His humour, too, sometimes sits uncomfortably until you see why he reaches for it. It’s his filter. Humour might be the sanest way to face reality in contemporary Israel. Keret’s wife, the actress and filmmaker Shira Geffen, is about to give birth in a hospital outside Tel Aviv. There’s a terrorist attack. But what can you do? Really. What can you do but get on with life?
Keret’s platform is desperation about the human condition. And he considers both his own real failings and those of the people around him with the same interested despair. Over the seven years, Keret travels, writes, stays married, fathers, aims to be the best son, brother and friend. And citizen. How can one frail human live according to his own standards, let alone judge anyone else? And how can you live a full and proper life in a country that you both love and hate? This inner distress is traced through dialogue with the brave and audacious Geffen.
Keret’s unusual gift is his direct line to what makes us human, although perhaps more Everyman than Everywoman. (Clive James, Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Safran Foer, Gary Shteyngart and George Saunders all offer endorsements.) Not everything he writes is interesting or offers insight, but his celebrated imagination can manipulate the ordinary into the absurd. You’re glued to the ceiling by your heels, to borrow from one of his short stories, but what can you do?
In the last piece in the book, Keret recounts a trip to visit his father-in-law that is interrupted by a terrorist attack. The seven years of life for Lev are enclosed within two attacks. What can you do? Live respectfully, love tenderly, look beneath. And find hope in the most ephemeral signs.