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New, almost new and rediscovered Israeli authors

“The Seven Good Years,” 

by Etgar Keret. (Riverhead Books, 2015)


“Lies, First Person” 

by Gail Hareven. (Open Letter, 2015)


“Thirst: The Desert Trilogy” 

by Shulamith Hareven. (Restless Books, 2015, originally published in 1996)


Israeli authors are not easily categorized. Etgar Keret is quirky, funny, weird and able to tell amazing stories in brief narratives that remain with readers long after the books have been read. Others like Gail Hareven develop characters who are the epitome of the unreliable narrator, but manage to engage the reader whether or not their stories are true or imagined. Shulamith Hareven, Gail’s mother, rewrites biblical stories of Genesis and Exodus from the points of view of rebels against the leadership of Abraham, Moses and Aaron. Three of their books have been recently published or republished for American readers.  

“The Seven Good Years” is Keret’s memoir of his son’s first seven years. He begins with the birth of the baby and ends in the year Keret’s father passes away. In 36 brief narratives Keret explores little family issues like his desire to offer a cab driver an opportunity to use the family’s bathroom, a kindness which seems offensive to his wife Shira. He describes his mother’s horror at the online game “Angry Birds” in which she says they are slaughtering adorable little piglets. One vignette tells of his son Lev’s ability to inveigle candy from everyone until the chocolate is running out of his nose to the disgust of the preschool teacher. In a moving story, Keret describes how he built a mini house in Warsaw in an alley between two houses near where his mother grew up in order to rediscover his roots. In sum, whether mourning his father, being lectured by his wife for being too nice, or creating a game called “pastrami” in order for Keret and Shira to shelter Lev when air raid sirens go off as they are driving on a highway, Keret is at the top of his game in this witty memoir.

Gail Hareven is a well-published author of fiction. “Lies, First Person” is her second novel to be translated into English. Her heroine Elinor Brandeis warns the reader in a prologue that there is possibly nothing in her story that is true, or maybe it is a true story. Then the narrative begins. Elinor tells the story of a happy woman, married to a wonderful man, the mother of two lovely sons, and a popular writer of a column for a Jerusalem newspaper. The column tells of a woman named Alice who wonders through Jerusalem seeing wonderful things. Alice is the ultimate optimist. Elinor’s own life begins to unravel when she is contacted by an uncle she has tried to forget for several decades. This uncle, Aaron Gotthilf, authored a controversial book in which he tried to imagine Hitler’s persona in an apologetic manner. He also raped Elinor’s older sister — a young woman considered “slow” — over a period of time in which he stayed with the family. By the time Gotthilf had left the family, it had disintegrated. In the course of the novel Elinor ponders the events of her uncle’s visit and its repercussions — over and over and over. What really happened? What action will Elinor take when she sees Gotthilf again? Is any of this true? This fabulous book will keep readers turning pages, holding their breath as Hareven examines the echoes of the Holocaust still resounding in Israel and the nature of evil in one’s own family.

Finally, there is “Thirst: The Desert Trilogy” by Shulamith Hareven, the first woman to become a member of the Academy of Hebrew Language. This book, long out-of-print, has been reissued by Restless Books, a new publishing house begun by Ilan Stavans, author, scholar, and expert in Jewish literature. “Thirst” is composed of three novellas set in biblical times, each of which retells a portion of the biblical narrative from the point of view of a hostile individual. In the first novella, “The Miracle Hater,” a member of the wandering tribe refuses to stay within Moses’s group. Among other things, he crosses into the Promised Land and cannot understand why the Hebrews are taking so long to get there. “The Prophet” tells the story of the Hebrews retaking the Promised Land under Joshua; however, the story is told from the point of view of the Canaanites. Finally, “After Childhood” is a quirky reworking of the binding of Isaac from the point of view of an Isaac-like character.  

All three books will provoke discussion. They are all worth reading.