etgar jonathan 311.
(photo credit: courtesy)
When American Jonathan Safran Foer and Israeli Etgar Keret shared the stage at
Mishkenot Sha’ananim last week, the usual script for a literary event featuring
two young and famous Jewish authors went out the window and into the Jerusalem
The two writers avoided a conventional exchange on the
similarities of their national experiences or the differences between American
and Israeli cultures. Even the normal trope on Jewish identity was absent from
the discourse. In its place was a theme playing a major role in the lives of
both writers: how to grapple with maturity.
Monday’s event, which was
conducted in English, featured a reading of recent work by each author, followed
by conversation between them and musical interludes performed by guitarist Eran
While the evening was titled “Writing from Here, Writing from
There,” Keret admitted at the start that the two authors had not discussed an
agenda for the event.
“I would text Jonathan and tell him we should talk
about what we’re going to say, and then he never texted me back.” Keret said to
Safran Foer, 33, who has written two bestselling novels –
Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – and most
recently the nonfiction book Eating Animals, is in Israel on a Jerusalem
Cultural Fellowship with his wife and fellow writer, Nicole Krauss. They live in
Park Slope in Brooklyn and have two children.
As Safran Foer took the
podium to read his short story Here We Aren’t, So Quickly, he surprised the
crowd with a tale whose tone differed from much of his previous work. The story,
recently published in The New Yorker, was a series of short sentences and
observational non-sequiturs about a couple moving back and forth in time from
youth into parenthood and old age.
“It was a story with a bunch of facts,
which usually blocks the story. But this time, the facts create the story and
then the story erupts,” Keret said following Safran Foer’s
Keret, who turns 43 next month, is the author of a number of
graphic novels, scripts and books including The Nimrod Flipout, Missing
Kissinger and the novella Kneller’s Happy Campers, which was adapted into the
film Wristcutters: A Love Story.
Keret was born in Ramat Gan and lives in
Tel Aviv with his wife, writer Shira Geffen, and their son. He is a lecturer at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva and at Tel Aviv
Keret read his story Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, a satire
of Israeli aggressiveness and of the country’s collective need to escape
difficult realities of life through fantasy. In the story, Keret is held
in his home by three different Israeli characters who threaten to kill
unless he tells them a story.
“It’s harder to find writing that is
essential, but through the absurd he [Keret] shows the need for
Foer said of the story.
While the space between American and Israeli
culture is a wide expanse, Safran Foer and Keret share common ground in a
Having becoming successful writers at an early age, both are
known for their unconventional methods of storytelling and idiosyncratic
As the two men have moved beyond their initial acclaim as
writers and entered marriage and fatherhood in their personal lives,
discussion reflected the new obstacles facing each at this stage in
“For a while I couldn’t write anything,” said Keret.
had a wife, medical insurance and a son; things I never had my in my
“What would it even mean to write something good? Does it mean
that someone likes it? That would make Dan Brown the greatest writer who
lived,” Safran Foer added.
Following the event, Safran Foer and Keret
held a booksigning.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim hosted another literary event on
Wednesday evening featuring Kraus and Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk.