Interview with Tasja Dorkofikis, PEN Atlas editor.
The Seven Good Years is a collection of autobiographical essays written between the birth of your son and the death of your father. At which point did you decide to use your own life as literary material?
I wrote my first personal non-fiction piece the night after my son was born. I don’t know why I did that. It was probably an attempt to try to understand better how I felt. I’ve written many other personal pieces since then but I didn’t think about them as a book until after my father died.
Your son features prominently in The Seven Good Years. Has becoming a father changed your way of looking at the world?
It certainly has. A father is an interface between his child and the world. Being in that position makes you want to be a better person. And I guess changing yourself is one of those things that are easier to do for someone you love than for yourself.
Why is short writing, fiction or non-fiction, your preferred form?
I feel that writing is similar to exploding and I haven’t yet learned how to explode slowly. For me, writing is like running as fast as you can until you can run no more. I could try to write something longer but it would have to be written in a different manner. I may try it sometime but for now I’m just happy writing the way I do.
Your son was born in the middle of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv; your parents are Holocaust survivors. As an Israeli writer, do you feel burdened by this connection between the personal and the political? And do you feel that you have a responsibility to talk about these issues as a public figure in Israel?
It is impossible for me to separate the political from the personal. All the things that happen in the political sphere immediately affect your personal life. And I do not see a responsibility to speak as a writer, but at the same time I think that it is impossible to stay silent when you feel your country makes mistakes which we are constantly paying for.
You once said that you started writing during your compulsory military service and that fiction saved your life. In what way?
Writing gave me hope and happiness at the time I needed it most, in my most difficult days. When you become a soldier you feel as if your individuality is being erased. The moment you cut your hair short and wear the army’s uniform you feel as if you’ve traded your unique individual traits for a soldier’s standard requirements. In such circumstances writing has a crucial value: it allows you to remind yourself who you truly are – without getting you into trouble.
The Seven Good Years is not published in Hebrew or in Israel. Why did you decide against publishing it there?
When it comes to fiction I have no issues about exposure because, while what you put down on the page are genuinely raw emotions, the reader isn’t given the specific biographical context of those emotions in your life. Fiction is like your biography protected by a brilliant cipher. When it comes to non-fiction and your own personal history, you feel much less protected and, though there are many things you simply need to share with people, at the same time there are always fears that come with such an exposure. Some personal stories we feel more comfortable to share with a stranger on a plane than with our next-door neighbour. The book will probably come out in Israel some day, but for now I need more time to get used to this open dialogue with readers and book critics about my personal life.
Who are your literary influences?
I think my two greatest influences are Kafka and Vonnegut. Kafka’s sincerity and Vonnegut’s humour are both full of bursting energy which one would want to learn how to tap into.
You are also a film-maker and a journalist. How do all these ways of expressing yourself inform each other?
Writing fiction is the most natural and intuitive form of expression for me, but I also love the collaborative aspect of film-making. I feel that every time I experiment with a new form of storytelling, like my last non-fiction book or when I’ve written for theatre or for children, I learn something new about storytelling, something which may help me the next time I sit down to write a story.
Visit Etgar Keret’s website at www.etgarkeret.com.
Read more about The Seven Good Years and buy it through our book partner Foyles on the World Bookshelf.