Spending seven surreal years with Etgar Keret

‘The Seven Good Years’ depicts the strange eccentricities of Israeli life through humor and wit.

Etgar Keret
During times of war, it’s possible – in the span of a minute – to go from strolling along the beautiful serene beaches of Tel Aviv to ducking for cover as an air-raid siren warning of rocket fire pervades the air.
Nobody understands this more than Etgar Keret, who is able to articulate how life in Israel can both be heaven and hell – a surreal mix of awe-inspiring vistas and angst and terror all rolled into one.
Anecdotes about his odd, confusing but always entertaining life fill his latest book, The Seven Good Years. It is telling that the collection of essays opens with the birth of his son, Lev, and closes with the death of his father. As such, the book is a celebration and reflection of the weird coincidences and eccentric series of events that one can experience while living in the Holy Land.
While the book is peppered with coincidences, it seems that there is no such thing as a random coincidence in the world of Etgar Keret. Every strange happenstance, encounter and experience attempts to explain the intricacies of living in a country rife with conflict.
For instance, his wife happens to give birth at the time a terror attack hits. Most of the hospital’s staff flee the maternity ward to attend to the victims. What would be a moment of joy becomes one of reflection – where his son’s birth is surrounded by death.
The book ruminates over the existential struggle Israelis go through and the sense of paralysis many feel when faced with what could seem like a bleak – if not dangerous – future.
Even the Iranian nuclear threat is given the absurdist Keret treatment. When Keret learns from a friend of a friend that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, harbors much more hostile attitudes toward Israel behind closed doors than what was originally thought, he immediately rushes to his wife in a panic.
Resigning themselves to the inevitable future of nuclear annihilation, the couple decides to put any current projects on hold.
“Why fix anything if the whole city is going to be wiped out in a few months?” Keret asks his wife when she requests he call a plumber to fix a leaky pipe. His wife agrees, and their house soon transforms itself into a dilapidated mess.
Of course, the exaggerated tale more likely reveals what Keret thinks of how the Israeli government is currently keeping house: Why worry about maintenance and upkeep when we have Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran at our doorstep? But that philosophy, he suggests, is a flawed one.
“Maybe the Iranians won’t attack and we’ll be stuck with this filthy, run-down apartment?” his wife asks him, underlying Keret’s greatest fear – that this perpetual angst may be holding us back as a nation.
That tale is one of the most absurdist and hyperbolic stories within the book, hitting on perhaps the rawest nerve.
Keret’s irreverent way of viewing the world is not only limited to the events around him, but the people too. Of the several essays dedicated to his son, one dissects his personality from a number of angles and explains why his infant boy is a wise psychotic junkie.
“I’d like to apologize to all the addicts and reformed addicts reading this, but with all due respect to them and their suffering, nobody’s can touch my son...
For him, there are only two possibilities, a breast or hell,” he jokes, explaining why his son should attend a Breast Feeders Anonymous meeting.
An essay dedicated to his older brother is particularly touching.
“He walked around the place like a king who was so modest and dreamy that he didn’t even know he was regal, and I followed in his wake like a prince all too aware of his royalty,” Keret says of a visit to his brother’s boarding school.
Throughout every phase of his brother’s life – a precarious pre-teen wise beyond his years, a 15 year-old who professed a devout allegiance to God, an aspiring engineer, to a disillusioned soldier serving in the IDF, Keret writes of the courage and grace his brother displayed throughout.
His pure affection for his brother is told in a heartwarming way that never verges into saccharine territory.
“The only kind of writer who can forget is a successful one, the kind who doesn’t write against the stream of his life, but with it,” Keret writes.
When it comes to Etgar Keret, though, that stream may not be a fluid one. There will always be twists and turns with unexpected obstacles along the way and for that, his readers remain grateful.