Delightful, intelligent and personal

by | Aug 14, 2016 | Book Reviews

The Seven Good Years: A Memoir
Etgar Keret
Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House, 2015
171 pages, $26.95 

Last spring, Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, appeared in my mailbox. The cover and press release promised a fun read, so i gave it a try. After the first story (all of three and a quarter pages), i determined the book was not for me, as i didn’t see the humor. The slim tome with its bright yellow jacket found a comfortable place on my desk and there it sat.

Then, this past June, i saw that Keret was the recipient of an impressive award, the Charles Bronfman Prize (see page 42), so i decided to give his memoir another chance. This time, i couldn’t put the book down and concluded that i must’ve been tired when i read those few pages last year.

A collection of essays— with some first appearing in 2006 in publications such as The New York Times, Jewish Quarterly, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, among others—each piece runs two to at the most six pages and bounce from profound to bizarre to heartfelt observations of snippets of Keret’s life.

The book opens with the birth of Keret’s son in a Tel Aviv hospital where victims of a terrorist attack are being brought for treatment and concludes seven years later with Keret, his wife Shira and seven year-old Lev jumping out of their car on the side of the road to make a “pastrami sandwich”—laying on top of each other for protection—as air raid sirens blare and a bomb explodes in the distance.

But this isn’t a book about an Israel at war (though the possibility is always looming). This is about an internationally acclaimed writer who lives in Tel Aviv with his smart wife who pulls no punches (“Our life is one thing, and you always reinvent it to be something more interesting. That’s what writers do, right?”) and his young son who gives him a run for his money (such as the time Keret and his wife are called to school because five year-old Lev is manipulating the cook to bring him chocolate, which is strictly prohibited on school grounds). The book is about Keret’s many travels to promote his work and to teach, and about his family— his orthodox sister with 12 children and his secular bother with no children and his parents who survived the Holocaust.

The stories, presented in chronological order, are charming, amusing, relatable, mischievous, and, at times somber and emotional. No matter the topic, they are all brilliantly told. Originally written in Hebrew, the English translation is flawless.

Since finishing The Seven Good Years, my copy has been read by my husband and one daughter. My other daughter is next, followed by a few friends. Also since reading it, Farideh Goldin, director of Old Dominion University’s institute for Jewish Studies and interfaith Understanding, contacted me to let the readers of Jewish News know that she had invited “a great israeli writer, Etgar Keret” to ODU’s literary Festival. What perfect timing!

Don’t follow my lead and wait a year to read The Seven Good Years. Do it now, maybe even before hearing him speak at ODU. I’ll be there.

—Terri Denison is the editor of Jewish News.