The Sev­en Good Years

Etgar Keret; Sil­ver­ston, Shlesinger, Cohen, and Berris, trans.

  • Review
By – June 16, 2015

Our life is one thing, and you always rein­vent it to be some­thing else more inter­est­ing,” Etgar Keret’s wife tells him in his mem­oir The Sev­en Good Years. That’s what writ­ers do, right?”

Keret does have a prodi­gious tal­ent for rein­vent­ing life on the page — or per­haps not so much rein­vent­ing life as hon­ing in on its most inter­est­ing moments, and splic­ing them into com­pul­sive­ly read­able tales. Inter­na­tion­al­ly known for his short fic­tion, graph­ic nov­els, and screen­plays, the Israeli author makes his first for­ay into non­fic­tion with The Sev­en Good Years, a series of inter­linked vignettes that span the years between the birth of his son and the death of his father.

Keret’s voice, trans­lat­ed seam­less­ly from the orig­i­nal Hebrew, is con­ver­sa­tion­al, unpre­ten­tious, and often hilar­i­ous. It is easy to get so caught up in his anec­dotes that their inci­sive depth sneaks up on you — such as when he illus­trates his expe­ri­ence of being Jew­ish in Bali with a tale about a hotel work­er find­ing a five-foot lizard in a bathtub.

In the bib­li­cal sto­ry of Joseph and the Pharaoh, the sev­en years of plen­ty are fol­lowed by sev­en years of famine. In Keret’s mem­oir, per­son­al and polit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties are immi­nent, even in joy­ful times. At the play­ground, par­ents dis­cuss whether or not their three-year-old chil­dren will even­tu­al­ly join the mil­i­tary. On book tours, Keret encoun­ters echoes of the anti­semitism that haunt­ed his par­ents in Poland. And even­tu­al­ly Keret’s father, a big-heart­ed, high-spir­it­ed Holo­caust sur­vivor, is diag­nosed with ter­mi­nal cancer.

Keret would be the first to cast him­self as an imper­fect clair­voy­ant. Like the Pharaoh, he is prone to anx­i­ety-fueled dreams, but the inter­pre­ta­tions he receives are far less accu­rate. A rec­cur­ring night­mare — in which he is sell­ing hot dogs to a men­ac­ing mob — leads him to invest his mon­ey in a for­eign bank for safe­keep­ing, where it even­tu­al­ly turns to dust. When he and his wife become con­vinced that a nuclear bomb will be dropped on Israel, they forego house­work and take out a huge loan before it becomes clear that they’ll have to set­tle for peace after all. Under­neath the humor lies a grim real­i­ty: in Keret’s Israel, unlike bib­li­cal Egypt, even the best of plan­ning can­not ward off tragedy.

Remem­ber­ing his father’s bed­time sto­ries about post­war Italy, Keret real­izes that they were meant to teach him about the desire not to beau­ti­fy real­i­ty but to per­sist in search­ing for an angle that would put ugli­ness in a bet­ter light and cre­ate affec­tion and empa­thy for every wart and wrin­kle on its scarred face.” Keret cat­e­go­rizes the sev­en years in his mem­oir as good” even though they’re rife with mini-dis­as­ters. Like his father, he doesn’t gloss over the bad. Instead he approach­es his woes with Keret’s par­tic­u­lar blend of com­pas­sion and humor that makes them more under­stand­able, more human. Keret’s wife is right — sto­ry­telling does, indeed, have the pow­er to rein­vent life.

Relat­ed Content:


Read Bec­ca Kan­tor’s inter­view with Etgar Keret here.

Bec­ca Kan­tor is the edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and its annu­al print lit­er­ary jour­nal, Paper Brigade. She received a BA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and an MA in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia. Bec­ca was award­ed a Ful­bright fel­low­ship to spend a year in Esto­nia writ­ing and study­ing the coun­try’s Jew­ish his­to­ry. She lives in Brooklyn.

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