By Robin Jacobson.
In January, my daughter made aliyah and moved to Tel Aviv. This unexpected change of direction on the family road map has upped my interest in all things Israeli, including Israeli authors. Etgar Keret writes about everyday life in Israel in The Seven Good Years, a witty, irreverent, and poignant set of autobiographical essays. While the book is not at all reassuring, it did make me laugh. Try it – especially if you don’t have children in Israel.
Born in Israel in 1967 to Holocaust survivors, Etgar Keret is sometimes called “the voice of his generation.” His short story collections, often surreal in style, are international best sellers, including The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God, The Nimrod Flipout; and Suddenly, A Knock on the Door. The versatile Keret has also written and directed plays, films, and television shows, not to mention contributing to the NPR program, This American Life.
Reviewers distinguish Keret from the older generation of Israeli writers, like Aharon Appelfeld, David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua, who write about large-scale issues touching the State of Israel – the Holocaust, Jewish history, the Palestinians. Keret focuses more on the inner life of Israelis, offering a fresh, offbeat perspective on day-to-day existence in tumultuous Israel.
The Seven Good Years covers the period from the birth of Keret’s son to the death of Keret’s father. For a book that begins with a terrorist attack and ends with a rocket falling on Tel Aviv, it is unexpectedly comical and sweet.
In the first essay, Keret and his wife arrive at the maternity ward for their son’s birth only to find most of the staff gone, called away to the emergency room to treat victims of a terrorist attack. While Keret nervously awaits his son’s arrival, he parries with a cynical reporter eager for a quote from the celebrity author Keret on the attack.
In the closing essay, Keret, his wife, and seven-year-old son, Lev, are in the car when an air raid siren goes off. They immediately lie face down on the highway. To ease Lev’s fears, Keret makes up a game, “Pastrami Sandwich,” and lets Lev be the pastrami layer between his parents, the sandwich bread. Lev is enchanted with the game and disappointed when it ends. His parents ruefully reassure him that he can count on more sirens and more opportunities to play.
Elsewhere in the book, Keret deals hilariously with a determined telemarketer (Keret pretends – to no avail – that she’s caught him in the hospital about to undergo an amputation) and goes on book tours. At a loss for how to inscribe books for strangers at public signings, he falls back on his talent for writing fiction:
“To Danny, who saved my life . . . If you hadn’t tied that tourniquet, there’d be no me and no book.”
“To Avram. I don’t care what the lab tests show. For me, you’ll always be my dad.”
“Bosmat, even though you’re with another guy now, we both know you’ll come back to me in the end.”
We also meet Keret’s father, a man of effervescent optimism despite having spent his childhood hiding from the Nazis. Keret says that the book’s title, The Seven Good Years, refers to the “lucky” years in which Keret was both a son to his father and a father to his son. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Keret knows not to take those years for granted.