Shalom Life | July 25, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Israeli Author Etgar Keret

Keret discusses his participation in Miranda July’s ‘We Think Alone’ project, his work being translated from Hebrew, and the difference between his Israeli and international persona.

By: Anthony Marcusa

Published: August 20th, 2013 in Culture » Books » Interviews

As an Israeli writer, fantastical and curious as his work is, Etgar Keret embraces leading different existences.

It’s more than just creating a character in which to immerse oneself; as a writer of so-called flash stories (exceedingly short fable-like fare) Keret pens a lot of them. It’s also about the disconnect between living in Israel while entertaining readers overseas.

“For me, it’s much easier to share something intimate to people who aren’t Israelis,” explained Keret during a phone conversation from his home in Tel Aviv. “The fact is it’s easier for me to say something intimate for The New York Times than a local newspaper in Tel Aviv. Its’ funny, when I’m in Israel, I’m much more introverted.”

It’s an odd way of thinking perhaps, especially when considering there are several stories of Keret’s that seem autobiographical. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, published in 2012, is a set of such whimsy and terror, including one in which an author named Keret is taken hostage and forced to tell a story. Keret, who also has a feature film directing credit to his name in the form of Palme d’Or winning Meduzot (Jellyfish), also has a forthcoming collection of mostly true-to-life personal stories called Seven Good Years. It begins with the birth of his son, and ends with the death of his father, and includes his wife having a miscarriage. However, it is not going to be published in Israel.

“When you are a writer, you want to live more than one life. I basically live different lives through the characters.”

His embrace of two lives, one more private at home and the other more open abroad, is especially clear during a recent collaboration with artist Miranda July. “We Think Alone” is an inquiring project, as July has asked a group of writers, actors, celebrities, and other notables to open up their inboxes. Each week July sends out a topic and those participating, including actress Lena Dunham, Canadian author Sheila Heiti, and former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are asked to search through their inboxes for past correspondences. All the emails sent out and posted were written prior to the project getting underway.

July, who had previously recorded a reading of a Keret short story for an audio book, reached out to the Israeli author, and before he even knew what the project was, he agreed to take part. “I really loved her books and her movies. I have this kind of belief in her. I didn’t totally understand at first, but I had trust in her.”

For Keret, that the project was American made it easier for him to allow eyes on his once private words. He had mixed reactions to how his emails would be read when put in a public space, but also thought they would be only interesting if you cared about the sender. The 20-week project is underway, with weekly snippets to analyze.

“Sometimes you look at it and say, I’m a little bit of an asshole in this. I say some things I wouldn’t say in public space, but at the same time, I look at it again and I say this is me,” offered Keret, oscillating between the two thoughts. “I really feel there are many things I say and do in intimate space that I would not do public, but I don’t fear that the gap is really great. I didn’t feel exposure would open skeletons; it may be me in a bad mood, me in a whiny mood, but it’s nothing drastically different.”

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