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The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

SevenGoodYrsIn this amazing collection of essays by short story writer Etgar Keret, life in Israel is viewed with wit and humor.

Despite Ketet's political views, The Seven Good Years is not a left-leaning treatise. It is an entertaining and touching collection that uses the birth of Keret's son in the first essay (Year One) and the death of his father (Year Seven) as beginning and end points. In between is a rich tapestry of vignettes that explore growing up as one of three children in a loving home. What makes this home unique is that both of his parents are Holocaust survivors.

 

Keret's mother spent her early years in the Warsaw Ghetto, sneaking out at night to scavenge food for her family. She was orphaned at a young age and managed to survive on her own. His father was a teenager during the war and witnessed his sister tortured to death by the Nazis. She never gave away the family's hiding place--a pit covered with branches. He remained there for two years and was finally rescued by the Italians.

Despite these traumatic experiences, his parents were optimistic people. They imagined better lives for themselves--lives that included happiness and children. In describing his own childhood, Keret speaks admirably of the bedtime stories his parents told him. His mother invented tales about fairies and dwarfs; his father regaled him withstories involving prostitutes, drunkards, and mafioso. There was violence, but the people were essentially good.

When Keret was 11, he asked his father why he told him stories that were plainly inappropriate. His father explained that after he was rescued in 1946, he joined the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary organization that fought to overthrow the British and establish the state of Israel. His fellow Irgun members persuaded him to buy weapons for them. His father then managed to relocate to the southern tip of Italy, where he engaged the local Mafia to sell him rifles for the Irgun. Having nowhere to live, "they offered him free lodgings in a whorehouse they owned there, and that, it seems, was the best time of his life."

When I try to reconstruct those bedtime stories my father told me years ago, Keret recalls, I realize that beyond their fascinating plots, they were meant to teach me something. Something about the almost desperate human need to find good in the least likely places. Something about the desire not to beautify reality but to persist in searching for an angle that would put ugliness in a better light and create affection and empathy for every wart and wrinkle on its scarred face.

Although The Seven Good Years is dedicated to Keret's mother, it is equally a tribute to both his parents, as well as to his brother and sister. His brother, a genius and idealist, has always supported Keret's writing and is clearly idolized by him. His sister, deeply religious and living in Jerusalem with a family of twelve children, has taught Keret the meaning of tolerance.

The essays that feature Keret's wife--actress and screenwriter Shira Geffin--are funny vignettes that focus on their differences in personality. It is obvious that Keret laughs at his own foibles and keeps his perspective in light of life's uncertainties and queer twists of fate.

The Seven Good Years is a stellar collection from a master storyteller.

Sara

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