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“We’re All Overgrown Adolescents”—Miriam Schlesinger and Philip Lopate talk about Etgar Kere

By Nicolle Elizabeth

Keret Event

Last Thursday's Keret event at Idlewild was a hoot. Miriam Shlesinger's discussion about translating Keret's use of slang, though she is over twenty years his senior, (Keret is 42), was hilarious. "I cannot tell you how long I spent trying to decide between the word “chicks” versus using “girls” versus using “babes,” she said. This lively feel was expected, as it is impossible to not think about personality and spark when talking about Etgar Keret. Philip Lopate, my personal essay-writing hero moderated the conversation with the usual wit and relaxed feel he is known for, at times talking about Etgar's stories as though they were tales about friends he was sharing in a bar. The subtext, however, was heavy.

Keret's magic is the ability to convey deeply serious subject matter in an often funny, if not fluffy sort of way. Using the overwhelming sense of the world and humanity in general, and Israel in particular, Keret backlights love, growth, deepening mistrust though metaphor and context. Often, as Levine said, it's "Jewish Mystic" centric. In the tradition of Malamud and perhaps Scripture itself, Keret's take on magical realism is always both surprising and completely dead-on. A sense of the duality between humor and morbid reality remains and as Lopate was discussing, the Joycian, postmodernist use of the omniscient narrator (yet, I argue sometimes, our narrator is an unreliable one) is one of Keret's sharpest tools in the box. "He takes us up, and then there's this diplomatic shrug. This, that's the way it is," said Lopate.

Thematically, there is almost always a base of simple emotion involved, a divergence from the collectivist ethos, a concern with the individual, often the little guy. But the way it is conveyed is so innovative, so soaked with, as Schlesinger put it, "Mass culture," that we feel young and excited and exciting while often reading really horrible tales about heartbreak. Miriam discussed the military influence as having great impact on the psyche of the heroes and anti-heroes of these stories and that for her, as a translator, it is sometimes tough to keep up, but she's tough and she does it anyway. (Keret's story) "Slimy Schlomo is a Homo wasn't always called that." She said.

The "Idealistic break from Kibbutznik literature," Lopate was talking about was important. That is to say, Keret separates himself from other known contemporary Israeli fiction writers such as Castel-Bloom and (Arab-Israeli) Kashua, by adding a "De-sensitization over-arching thematically, a plateau of numbness interrupted with chards of feeling. A streak of mortality."

Keret plays with the paint, he's gifted with a fearlessness we short fabulist fiction writers can only pray translates even an iota in our own work in whichever language we're writing it in, and last night, though he was thousands of miles away, we felt his spirit, kicking us in the ribs, telling us to re-evaluate our everythings.


Links to other posts in our Girl on the Fridge discussion:

Keret events this March in Boston and Chicago.

Adam Rovner puts Etgar Keret in context.


Miriam Shlesinger talks about translating Keret.

Phillip Lopate discusses the roots of Keret's work.


Adam Rovner on Reading Keret: Front Line of the Hyperreal.

Photos from the event.


Adam Rovner interviews Etgar Keret

The video from the Idlewild Event

Adam Rovner talks about "An Exclusive"

The Art of Big Things: Todd Hasak-Lowy on Reading Keret

My Favorite Keret Story, from Bud Parr


Translating the Funhouse: Adam Rovner on Reading Keret

Moshe Ron and Hannan Hever discuss finding Etgar Keret.


Resources for further reading (and viewing) on Etgar Keret.

Published Mar 9, 2009   Copyright 2009 Nicolle Elizabeth

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