erasing clouds

Etgar Keret's The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories

book review by anna battista

Israeli critic Nissim Calderon called Etgar Keret “the Amos Oz of his generation”, but Keret’s style and main subjects are quite different from Oz’s. Far from being interested in social realism, Keret seems to be more into surreal and bizarre worlds. Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, author and script-writer Keret is the most popular writer among Israeli youth: he has been translated in 14 languages and his film Skin Deep won the Israeli Oscar and the first prize at several international film festivals. Keret's stories are sometimes a bit like short films (it is worthwhile remembering that 50 short films based on his stories were produced): they are just a few pages long, but all feature striking characters and incredible or incredibly ordinary events that stuck to the mind of the reader for the way they are recounted.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories features more surreal environments and characters, from a mean bus driver who decides to act mercifully for the first time in his life, to a man who wants to have an angel for a friend and gets a liar and a demon who patiently watches TV and eats truffles while waiting for the writer he’s come to steal his talents from, to finish his last story.

The author doesn’t address political issues directly, but echoes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the Holocaust are there: “Cocked and Locked” is about a relentless quarrel between two soldiers; “Shoes” and “Siren” focus on the emotions that Holocaust Remembrance Day evokes in young Israelis.

One of the best stories in this collection is the novella “Kneller’s Happy Campers”: it narrates the twisted adventures of various characters who, after committing suicide, find themselves in a strange parallel and warped world where they discover that being alive or dead, in heaven or hell, doesn't make much difference. Life and death are indeed as bizarre, depressing and confusing as ever, and the reader will be caught up in this tragicomic world together with the characters that populate it.

Surrealism is definitely Keret’s antidote to survive the madness and the harsh reality of daily life in Israel, the Middle East and, possibly, in the rest of the world.


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