By Richard Allen Greene
If Kafka had been a stand-up comedian, his stories might have turned out a bit like Etgar Keret's, for
Keret's world is not quite like yours or mine.
It is similar in a lot of ways - guys worry about whether their girlfriends love them, wheeler-dealers
make fortunes in hi-tech - but just when you think you
know where you stand, a beautiful girlfriend turns
into a fat man with a gold pinky ring who spends his
days watching football on TV.
Etgar Keret's short stories are being translated into English
Or a fish on a plate whispers: "Take off, grab a cab
to the airport and take the first plane out."
And when you argue that you can't, that you have commitments,
the fish - without ever opening its eyes - replies: "Never mind, forget it. I'm depressed."
Meet Etgar Keret, Israel's hottest young writer.
His newly-translated book of short stories, The Nimrod Flip-Out, is published in Britain on 15 March.
It is full of tiny gems, many lasting no more than five or six pages, and his tone is so conversational, so deceptively casual, that you can devour them one after another - until you suddenly find yourself choking on your laughter and tears.
The stories are subtly subversive, hinting at the pressure-cooker situation in which Israelis live without ever descending into overt politics. Keret says that is intentional.
"I don't want to represent the political reality, I want to show people who live in it," he says.
"It's like when you use a mobile phone, it affects the TV - it makes a noise. I want to talk about this noise, not the phone call."
But look carefully into Keret's stories and the signs
of an outside world are there, such as in Your Man,
where the protagonist "banged the door, like in the
army when we used to do door-to-door searches" - and
then bashes in the head of the occupant with a stone.
Keret started writing during his compulsory army
service, where, he says, he was such a bad soldier he
was kicked from one unit to another until he ended up
doing 48-hour shifts alone with computers.
"There were no windows, and you start doing all those jail-movie things like talking to rats and talking to yourself. And then I started writing," he says.
As luck would have it, he had been reading Kurt
Vonnegut's classic anti-war romp Slaughterhouse Five.
"It changed my perspective. I had always thought if
you criticise, you have to offer something better or
they would call your parents.
"Then I read Vonnegut and he just says: 'This sucks.'
And it helped me realise it was OK just to say: 'This
is dishonest, this is immoral'."
Though his stories are not overtly political, Keret
himself has been active in projects linking Israeli
and Arab writers.
Last year, he and London-based Palestinian writer
Samir El-Youssef contributed pieces to a book called
And he recently appeared at a reading in France with
Arab writer Sayed Kashua - where he discovered they
had similar worries about the event.
"I'm always afraid of events in France. There's
always some pointy-chinned woman who stands up at the
end and says: 'You're a baby killer, your hands are
covered with blood.'
"And Sayed said: 'I always get some guy saying:
'You're all suicide bombers, you have blood on your
"So I saw this woman in the crowd, she was nervous the
whole time, and I was thinking to myself, that she was the one.
"And as soon as we were finished speaking she stood up
and said: 'This whole time I have been confused. Which
one of you is the Israeli writer and which is the Palestinian?'"