Etgar Keret (left) and Samir el-Youssef at a literary conference in Israel.
Etgar Keret, 38, is an Israeli author whose many collections of short stories have all been best sellers. His parents are Holocaust survivors; his sister is ultra-Orthodox, married, the mother of 11 and lives in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighbourhood; his brother is one of the leaders of the movement to legalize marijuana use in Israel.
Samir el-Youssef is a Palestinian author of satirical novels who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Today he lives in London.
Keret and el-Youssef first met and became friends in 2000, at a meeting of Arab and Israeli writers in Switzerland. While everyone else at the event was busy flinging out the usual tired old political slogans and playing the blame game, Etgar and Samir discovered that they had a lot in common. They were both born in the 1960s and came of age during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon – an event that affected their lives profoundly. Neither identifies with a political leader: El-Youssef is critical of Yasser Arafat, and Keret of Ariel Sharon. And both believe that the human connection is more important than politics. Change, said Keret, will come from the bottom up – when people from both sides of the conflict transcend the political framework, leave aside conventional ideas and thus humanise each other.
During the height of the recent intifada, el-Youssef called Keret from London and suggested that they collaborate on a book of short stories. The result, Gaza Blues, became a best-seller in Europe. The two authors are now close friends. Last year el-Youssef made his first visit to Israel, to attend the Jerusalem Book Fair, and gave a joint presentation with Keret.
Keret’s stories are anything but conventional. He has a wild imagination, a fantastic sense of humor, and he takes his readers on crazy trips with totally unpredictable twists and unexpected endings. He writes about intimacy, love, death, grief, and friendship – all the things that are so much more important than the most recent speech given by a famous politician. And he makes you think.