Monday, September 28, 2015

7 Reasons Why I Read Haruki Murakami

For my birthday, my children bought me the book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. This was exactly the present I wanted! I am a passionate Murakami fan and I was eager to read the new novel, which would afterwards find a place of honor on my bookshelf with all the other Murakami titles I own.

The new book, which sold a million copies in Japan in its first week after being released, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it added to my appreciation of Murakami's writing. The book is quite different from 1Q84, Murakami's strangely-titled previous novel, in that it is a more simplistic, more human story, and at 297 pages in hardcover, it is one-third 1Q84's opus length.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Following the Footsteps of Orpheus

A sign declaring the birthplace of Orpheus greets visitors to the village of Gela, high in Bulgaria's southern Rhodopes Mountains. According to legend, Orpheus - the mythical Greek musician, poet, and prophet - descended into the underworld in an attempt to save his wife, Eurydice, from the Greek god, Hades. More on that in a minute.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Seven good years of Keret

I have a confession to make. I am a regular reviewer of modern Israeli literature with a specialization in reading recently translated Hebrew books. Yet, my reviews have failed to cover the writing of one of the genre’s leading voices. Luckily, I had an opportunity to receive a copy of The Seven Good Years (Granta Books, July 2015) and get a proper introduction to Etgar Keret.

I recently read Tel Aviv Noir, a short story tour of the seedier neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. That collection was co-edited by Keret and novelist Assaf Gavron. One of my favorite stories was Keret’s contribution, “Allergies”, which told of a couple who adopt a dog and end up doing increasingly strange things to take care of the pet.

The story seemed so personal that I assumed at the time it may have come from the author’s personal experiences. Or maybe not. In any case, the essays collected in The Seven Good Years represent a memoir of Keret’s last seven years as he travels around the world speaking about his books; as he deals with losing a father and raising a son; and as he surprises us over and over again with his sly wit.

The essays included in this quickly-read collection are succinct anecdotes that cannot fail to entertain. If I have any advice about how to read the book it would be not to read it all at once. Each separate story should be savored for many moments; each provides a life-affirming look at family life, Israelisms, and what it means to be an author visiting book fair after book fair in far off lands.

The book is divided into seven sections by year, each including a few interconnected, but totally independent essays. It is difficult to pick favorites, as they are all extremely enjoyable; all leave a smile on your face and a desire for more.

I will mention two of them but only in brief, as the essays themselves are only a few pages long. In “Call and Response” the author battles a persistent telemarketer who will follow you to the grave to sell you an upgrade for your television satellite package. In “Pastrami”, the author must find a suitable way to explain an air raid siren to his seven-year-old son during the recent war in Gaza. As the boy nervously gets out of their car, he lies between his parents on the ground making a virtual ‘Pastrami Sandwich’, which becomes a game that can be played even when there are no sirens.

Now that I know what Etgar Keret has been doing during the past seven years, I have no further excuses. I must end my Keret deficiency by reading his five bestselling story collections as soon as possible, and certainly before he publishes another seven years of memoirs.

The essays in The Seven Good Years were translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston; Miriam Shlesinger; Jessica Cohen; and Anthony Berris.

Etgar Keret was born in Tel Aviv in 1967. His short story collections have been translated into 35 languages and he has been published in the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, Le Monde and other periodicals. Keret has written a number of screenplays; “Jellyfish”, his first film as director alongside his wife Shira Geffen, won the Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature at Cannes in 2007.

Buy The Seven Good Years and read it now!

Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Would You Jump Off This Bridge If Someone Paid You?

As we crossed the picturesque bridge in Mostar, a young man in a bathing suit was resting on the rails. He waited patiently, as if he had all the time in the world. All that it would take to get him to dive into the waters of the Neretva River 24 meters below was 25 euros, but the tourists walking across the bridge didn't want to donate money to see his feat.

The bridge in Mostar, one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this despite the fact that it's actually a reconstruction of a 16th century Ottoman bridge. The original Stari Most, as it is called, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War.

Commissioned by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by Mimar Hayruddin, the original bridge was built over a nine-year period and completed in 1566. With its hump-backed shape, the bridge is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture of the time.

Crossing the stepped pedestrian bridge is the most memorable part of one's visit to Mostar. The views up and down the river are simply spectacular. On the far side, there is a cobblestone street leading through the old town's touristy souvenir bazaar. There are plenty of restaurants offering tasty meals, some of them situated on the river shore below the bridge.

Everything looks so neat, so new, and that's because it is. Almost 90% of Mostar was destroyed during the 1991-1995 war, including all 36 of the city's mosques. During those years, the river divided the city between its Christian and Muslim districts, with snipers shooting back and forth. Today, the city has been rebuilt, although there are still buildings pockmarked by shells fired.

Crossing the bridge again, the young man is still waiting to dive in exchange for his fee. Mostar is reportedly the warmest city in all of Europe, but the river far below is very cold. But, many do jump from the bridge. The highlight of the year is the annual diving competition held at the end of July. The first recorded instance of someone diving from the bridge is from 1664.

Even if you don't happen to visit Mostar in July, you can still pay a member of the city's diving club to plunge into the cold river for your viewing pleasure. But, would you jump off the bridge for money?

Previously posted at The Huffington Post.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

You Can't Write a Novel While Driving, but...

Of course you can't write a novel while driving a car! You will get into an accident, endanger the lives of your passengers and the other drivers. But, you can write a novel while taking a walk. And I just proved this is possible.

Yesterday afternoon I went out on my regular exercise walk, which is anything but regular these days due to a severe lack of time. In one pocket I had an old MP4 listening device dating back many years. I was eager to listen to my collection of America, Paul Simon, and Elton John. Perfect music to accompany my walking and a clear sign that I am not as young as I pretend to be.

In my other pocket was my smartphone, a phone I would only use in case of an emergency. But I was confident that I could handle the walk. Come on, guys. I do this exercise walk quite a bit and it would be better defined as a power walk. I walk quickly.