Interview with Etgar Keret

by Jackie Mohan

JM: Which writers and/or stories have most influenced your writing? If you could recommend only one writer/story for every writer to read, who/what would you recommend and why?

EK: The story that influenced my writing the most was “Metamorphosis” by Kafka. I read it during my compulsory army service and was surprised that a writer was “allowed” to write a story that is so strange. It didn’t seem to have much of a narrative arc or an explanation to why the protagonist woke up in his bed, discovering he is a large insect. It read more like a dream than a story and at the same time it was the most powerful and moving text I’d ever read. I think that there was something in the mystery of this text that made me want to write myself.
I think that every writer would find different stories inspiring. That’s what’s so beautiful about art.

JM: Based on your experience in both countries, how would you say that Israeli and American writers differ in their approach to writing and what could they learn from each other?

EK: It is very difficult to speak about writers as a national group. I see writing as a celebration of individualism, so I find every writer a world of its own.

JM: From short story collections to graphic novels and beyond, your writing has been largely fiction. With your newest book, The Seven Good Years, what moved you to write a memoir?

EK: It was the birth of my son which both gave me a reason and an excuse to write nonfiction. The reason was that I’d found myself so overwhelmed with emotions, which I couldn’t find a narrative allegory for, and the excuse was that maybe one day in the future, when he grows up, he’ll find these texts interesting.

JM: What obstacles did you encounter in writing so openly about your life and your family history?

EK: In many ways it was easier than fiction because you don’t have to make up the stories–life already did. The tougher part was convincing my son, who was already eight, to publish this book. My son felt that this book, talking about our family, would create a situation in which his friends and friends’ families would know more about us than we’d know about them, and he didn’t like this idea at all. We’ve reached a compromise in which I’ll publish the book anywhere but Israel so that his teachers and friends’ parents won’t know intimate details about him.

JM: In The Seven Good Years, you discuss your parents’ shared history as Holocaust survivors. How do you think that has influenced your writing?

EK: I think that first and foremost it influenced my life. The fact that my parents had gone through such a hell and were still optimistic and happy was very inspiring. As a child, I felt that I must learn their secret of being able to be content. I never did, but I still try to get there through my writing.

JM: How do you approach writing fiction and nonfiction differently?

EK: Nonfiction is much easier. It is harder to make up a story than retell one. The big challenge for me about nonfiction is to find a way to be genuinely as excited about something when you write about it as you were when it had actually happened.

JM: Of the numerous genres in which you’ve written, is there any one genre that you most enjoy working in or one that you most look forward to revisiting?

EK: Short stories are my most natural and instinctive element and when I don’t write one for a while I sorely miss it. The most fun genre for me to write in would be children’s books. In a short story there are no rules, but in a children’s story there are even less rules!

JM: What advice would you give aspiring writers? What do you wish you had known when you began writing?

EK: The best advice I have is “enjoy your writing.” If you’ll find what you are writing exciting and fun, I’m sure that others will too.

***

jackie

Jackie Mohan is a South Carolina native who graduated from the University of South Carolina before coming to ODU.  One of the literary journals she most admires is Glimmer Train.