the seven good yearsEtgar Keret is an Israeli writer who has had his work translated into thirty-seven languages. He is a lecturer at a university and a short story writer. Keret has also appeared in many newspaper publications and reviews and contributes on This American Life. I was first introduced to Keret through his short stories and the work that he has done on two films, Jellyfish and Wristcutters: A Love Story.

The Seven Good Years: A Memoir chronicles in a year-to-year story the seven years between the birth of Etgar’s son and the death of his father. Each section is broken up into a different year and while Etgar does manage to incorporate flashbacks to help readers realize how he became the person he is today, how he met the people important to him, and how his relationships with his family have grown and changed, the majority of the story is on pivotal moments that happened within those seven years of grandpa, dad, and son relationships.

Lev, Etgar’s son, was born in the middle of a terrorist attack. When they finally get to the hospital, there are no doctors in the maternity ward because there are so many trauma people needing help. The journalist who goes to interview Etgar makes this attack seem commonplace and Etgar soon references Tel Aviv. Readers are thrust into a Keret’s world, a world where he travels the world doing book talks, meets with different people, and does readings from his previous works. The flashbacks provided me with much needed background to understand the reluctance and focus on family behavior through certain circumstances. Although Lev and Etgar experienced their childhood at different time periods, the overarching base emotions prove to be the same. I found this book by Keret to be an engaging and emotional read, one that while being marketed as a memoir, also read to me as a story about more than just his family life. Sure, on the surface the family dynamics are there, but I found myself digging deeper into the book to really flesh out the happenings that molded Etgar and his family to behave the way they do.

I found this book to be an introduction to a culture and an area of the world that I basically grew up knowing little to nothing about. This memoir could have been exceptionally heavy and depressing, in fact at points it is, but Keret was able to show readers that while sad moments are present, there are always ways to find good moments as well.

thepropertyIn Rutu Modan’s The Property, Mica and her grandmother, Regina are traveling from Israel to Warsaw, Poland. Just before World War II Regina had married and moved to Israel. Years later, as the only surviving member of her family, she was contacted and inform that she was entitled to reclaim her family’s property.  For twenty years she left the property unclaimed, but following the death of her son and Mica’s father, Reuben, she decided to make the trip.

Returning to Warsaw, Regina is overwhelmed with the guilt and shame of a long hidden family secrets. Modan beautifully illustrates how our perceptions of ourselves and our world are shaped by cultural and personal histories, and The Property successfully (and subtly) exposes the generational divide in a family and in a city.  With charming illustrations reminiscent of Hergé’s Tintin and a witty sense of humor, The Property is a graphic novel sure to win over some skeptics of the genre.  I would recommend to fans of Maus by Art Spiegelman, Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, or Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.

jerusalem

Many readers are trying to get context for what’s going on in Jerusalem and Palestine. Novels can give social and cultural insight into ancient (and modern) disputes beyond the strife of war and conflict.

The Walls of Jericho by Jon Land

This is a thriller that proves that  the stereotypical “strife in the Middle East” can be woven into highly entertaining crime fiction. The first in the series about a pair of detectives (one Israeli and one Palestinian American) who are assigned to work together to catch a serial killer. Danielle Barnea is an Israel Security Agency officer, and works with Ben Kamal to unravel the plot that may threaten the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Beynon Rees

Rees keeps the “military maneuvers in the background and [focusses] on ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives,” according to the New York Times. The hero is a Palestinian teacher, who helps with the investigation of  the theft of a priceless scroll.

Damascus Gate by Robert Stone

This is a mystery that “transcends its genre” and is a “novel of place, securely grounded in the stones of Jerusalem.” Religious radicals (Christian and Jewish) plan to blow up Mosques in Jerusalem, for their own convoluted reasons. Stone ‘s “meditation on belief”….and “suspense all come together is a stunning finale that satisfies on all levels.” Booklist

Martyr’s Crossing by Amy Wilentz

An incident at a Jerusalem checkpoint sparks riots and the soldier and young Palestinian mother are reluctantly pulled into the ensuing chaos. The author is the Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and is “masterful at turning the Israeli/Palestinian predicament like a prism to expose multifaceted viewpoints, leaving the reader with insight into the politics and an overwhelming empathetic vision of the human pain that is part of daily living in this region of the world,” according to Booklist.