Equal parts Franz Kafka and Kurt Vonnegut, and suffused with inimitable and absurdist hilarity, Israeli writer Etgar Keret is a singular voice in contemporary literature. His masterful short stories, at once dark and delightfully comedic, capture human experience in all of its inspiring beauty and perplexing shortcomings and bewitch readers with their surreal worlds.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Keret is a favorite author of Israel’s younger generation, as well as an international success for his short stories (Suddenly a Knock on the Door); his children’s stories (Dad Runs Away with the Circus); graphic novels (Pizzeria Kamikaze); and short movies (Jellyfish). According to Keret, “I really think that when you write or make films, you try to show how you experience reality. I don’t experience it as realism, which is objective, and something people agree on. The moment you accept subjectiveness, it transcends realism—falling in love is like flying in the air.” His feature film Wristcutters (2006) won several international awards. Over 40 short movies have been based on his stories, including $9.99, released to critical acclaim in 2009.
Keret’s books have been published abroad in 31 languages in 35 countries, and he has received numerous awards including the Book Publishers Association’s Platinum Prize and the Ministry of Culture’s Cinema Prize. In 2007, Keret and Shira Gefen won the Cannes Film Festival’s “Camera d’Or” award for their movie Jellyfish. In 2010, Keret was honored in France with the decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lectures at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Keret visits Seattle on tour with the English translation of his sixth bestselling short story collection, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door.
Q & A with Etgar Keret
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Respectfulness. It is good for nothing and stands in the way of almost anything that is fun.
What is your idea of happiness?
“Happiness” and “love” are two words I usually avoid, and it is not because I do not know these feelings well, it is just that every time I try to articulate those feelings in words I feel as if I’m diminishing them.
With which historical figure do you most identify?
Job (In the complaining aspect not in the suffering one). I see myself as a Job-lite (or a Diet Job, don’t know how they call those low calorie drinks in the States).
What is your most treasured possession?
My family. Without them I’m just a sophisticated piece of mud.
Who are your favorite writers?
Kafka, Vonnegut and Babel. Each of them created a breathtaking world in his own mind-image.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents. Surviving the Holocaust and staying optimistic people who believe in the goodness of mankind is not a small feat.