A funny man of letters

Amir Gutfreund continues to churn out quality literary works, despite his illness.

Amir Gutfreund (photo credit: MOTI KIKION)
Amir Gutfreund
(photo credit: MOTI KIKION)
The next installment of the Ten Lamilim La’asot Becha (“Let the Words Wash Over You”) literary-based series focuses on one of most creative men of letters of latter years, Amir Gutfreund.
The event will take place at Holon’s Mediatheque Center on December 26, featuring an impressive roster of top professionals from across a broad range of disciplines. The VIP list includes TV personality Modi Bar-On, rock megastar Berry Sakharof, leading children’s theater director Ronnie Pinkovitch, writer Eshkol Nevo and pop star Efrat Ben-Zur.
Gutfreund himself is also due to contribute to the proceedings, despite being in frail condition. The 51-year-old author is seriously ill with cancer but continues to churn out quality literary works, recently publishing his latest tome. The Legend of Bruno and Adella offers plenty of intrigue, seasoned with a healthy dosage of humor.
The latter is a constant element in Gutfreund’s work, and came in handy for his debut publication, Shoah Shelanu (“Our Holocaust”), which came out in 2001 and addressed the highly sensitive topic with a winning combination of irony and humor. It is a subject he knows only too well, as the son of Holocaust survivors.
Gutfreund’s interest in writing was irrevocably sparked when he came across J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy at age 17. He says he completely lost himself in the books for a week, then came out dazed and fired up with an ambition to become a writer himself.
After school he joined the army and ended up spending 20 years in uniform, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Israel Air Force. He also earned a master’s in applied mathematics and operations research from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, married in his late 30s and had three children. Sadly, two years ago his wife, who was 10 years younger than him, died of cancer.
When Gutfreund finally got down to some serious writing, towards the end of his military career, his teenage fervor had clearly evolved into earnest intent – and it was evident that there was plenty of talent behind the drive.
His career got off to an auspicious start, and Shoah Shelanu brought the debutant author the Buchman Memorial Prize awarded by Yad Vashem.
His sophomore effort, Ahuzot Hahof (Seaside Estates), brought him the even more prestigious Sapir Prize for Literature, and there were three more books before The Legend of Bruno and Adella. Gutfreund’s “trophy cabinet” also includes the Sami Rohr Choice Award conferred on him by the American- based Jewish Book Council in 2007, and the Prime Minister’s Award for literature from 2012. Not a bad haul.
“When I was younger all I wanted to do was write, although I didn’t really think about publishing anything,” said Gutfreund in an interview a couple of years ago.
“I have always been interested – both as a reader and now as a writer – in the soul of man, which is the scariest amusement park there is,” he noted.
“That’s what I write about: people.”
Gutfreund says he is so fascinated by people that he would happily suffice with creating characters, without having them do or say a thing.
More than anything, Gutfreund says he feels Jewish and Israeli, and that comes through strongly in his writing.
“I try to delve into the inner machinations of this country, in the past, present and future, and also what it means to be a Jew, not necessarily from a religious standpoint. I look at being the child of Holocaust survivors, and I am fascinated with the history of the Jewish people – which, to my mind, is the craziest history in the world.”
All of the above is ever-present in Gutfreund’s books. “That’s what I write about. Each time it is supposedly something different, but it’s always about people.”
And he always finds something to laugh about, no matter how serious and painful the subject may appear.
“That’s my way of looking at things, and presenting them,” he says with a smile. “My sense of humor is my most potent fencing tool. When I write about the history of Zionism, and those crazy people who came here to build a country, I laugh at that, but out of love. I try to describe in words what can’t be described in words. That is really what literature is all about.”
Gutfreund possesses all the requisite skills and traits of the archetypal storyteller.
He manages to depict potentially disturbing situations in both a compelling and entertaining manner.
When someone picks up a book called “Our Holocaust,” they could be forgiven for steeling themselves for a rocky, angst-filled ride into the horrors of genocide and suffering. But that is not Gutfreund’s way.
There is nothing, it seems, that can’t provide the raw materials for some fun – as Gutfreund leaps across the demarcation lines between fantasy and reality, sorrow and fun, with gay abandon.
Fun should be the order of the day in Holon, too, next Friday when the next Ten Lamilim La’asot Becha slot takes a close, and surely comical, look at seven characters from Gutfreund’s oeuvre to date – including a blacksmith who turns out to be a culinary genius, a farmer who cultivates poems in his parsley patch and a less-than-successful soccer team.
For more information about Ten Lamilim Laasot Becha: (03) 502-1552 and www.mediatheque.org.il