Israeli writer Etgar Keret will read from his memoir “The Seven Good Years” on Friday afternoon at the University of Louisville.
Keret’s short stories have been featured on “This American Life,” and he has also published several graphic novels and a children’s book. “The Seven Good Years” is his first published work of nonfiction, and it details the time between the birth of his son and the death of his father.
Etgar Keret will speak at 3 p.m. Friday in Strickler Hall on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus. The event is free and open to the public.
What are “the seven good years” you reference in the title?
It talks about the seven years in my life between the birth of my son and the death of my father. My parents are both Holocaust survivors, and my mother was orphaned at a young age, and she always kind of fantastized [about] showing her children to her parents. This was almost mystical in my childhood. So these seven lucky years, in which I got to be both a son to my father and a father to my son, are actually the topic of the book.
Did you bring techniques that you use in fiction writing to this nonfiction work?
There is something very unconscious about the way that I write my fiction. So I think there is a lot of resemblance between my nonfiction and fiction, but I wouldn’t call it “technique.” It’s more, I would say, instinct and reflexes. The chapters are very very short in the book. The memoir is very funny, in the same way my stories are funny. And I think that also sometimes I throw a curveball at the reader, talking about one thing and causing a completely different effect on the reader. So there are a lot of similarities, but they’re just because that’s who I am and that’s how I tell stories.
As a reader of your work, I normally expect something surreal and improbable, yet completely possible to happen. What was it like for you to write something true from your life instead?
Well, I think that my life [is] very surreal and improbable, and that’s why I write those kinds of stories. I come from a family where my eldest brother has started the “legalize marijuana” movement in Israel, and has initiated his social struggle to legalize drugs for 10 years from a treehouse with high-speed Internet in Thailand. I have a sister who, at the age of 54, has 11 children and 18 grandchildren. So there’s a lot of surrealistic stuff about my biography, too. And I think that when I sit down and write fiction, I don’t intend to write surreal stories. I just want to write about life as I experience it, and because my life experience is very surreal, that’s why the stories come out this way.
How do you think your upbringing in Israel, with Holocaust survivor parents, has impacted your work?
It’s had a huge impact on my work. My mother, being orphaned at a very young age, always said that she was never trained to be a mother because, she said, when you grew up in a family, you saw how your parents had raised you. And if you had a happy childhood, you imitate them, and if you had a sad one or a bad one, you rebel against it. But she said, I had no reference. So in a sense, all the ways that she raised us was completely intuitive and it came from the mind of someone who, in a sense, always stayed a child a little bit because her childhood ideas and fantasies were never challenged by parents. She never was in a situation where she told herself a story and somebody said, “No, you can’t do that.”
I think the bedtime stories my parents would tell me — because my mother believed that bedtime stories should be made up by parents, not read from books, the same way that dinner should be made up by parents, not ordered from McDonald’s, you know? So those bedtime stories were my introduction to what stories should be like and what is the power of storytelling. So I think that everything I write, I can backtrack it to my childhood and the way my parents raised me.