The Seven Good Years
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in what seems a blasé manner, talk about how much they hate terrorist attacks. “They put a damper on everything.” Keret shares this story—the beginning of his life as a father occurring as the wounded of Tel Aviv surround him— most likely to imply something deep about life and death, but I simply found it funny. Chalk that up to my dark sense of humor, or maybe it’s because Keret manages to wrest more from tragedy than just pathos. Surely he’s trying to communicate what it is like to live in a part of the world where violence is an everyday reality, so much so that emergency personnel shake their heads and rhetorically ask “What can you do?” as they share a piece of gum. Nevertheless, Keret is up to more than a mere account of Middle East life. He’s after bigger fish.
The Seven Good Years is funny, and sad, and even beautiful at times. The closing bookend of this collection of ruminations—which looks at everything from fatherhood to thoughts on being a writer to the psychotic nature of Angry Birds—is a tender recounting of Keret and his wife playing a game with their child to distract him from the sirens alerting them of an impending rocket. The game they play is so sweet that it confronts the old cliché about not wanting to bring new life into an uncertain and ugly world. Of course, bringing a child into a contested landscape wrought with rocket attacks and ongoing military aggression is ultimately irrational, but Keret smartly confronts this without overt political statements, apologies for his country, or condemnations of the Palestinians. He is not concerned with simple accusations or explanations; his focus is on the absurdity and the splendor of seven years’ worth of day-to-day events for which the book is named.
I doubt I’ve laughed harder than when Keret and his wife discuss their fears of the terrifying rhetoric of ex-Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Will he really wipe Israel off the face of the earth? Keret decides that this may come to pass, so why bother fixing up the house? What’s the point? His wife agrees and decides that they now have the freedom to take out loans and max out credit cards until the inevitable comes. The bills, the credit card companies, the debts—all of it will be wiped away along with their country, so why not live it up? And then Keret’s wife has a nightmare of true peace coming to the Middle East, at which time they will have to somehow find the money to pay it all back. “It was just a dream, “ he assures her. “He’s a lunatic, you can see it in his eyes.”
Keret’s ability to drain danger of its power by making it seem ridiculous is a blessing. In his vignettes, he reclaims his country, his family, his life from the outside forces that are forever threatening to blow it all sky high. But he is not being facetious—these are indeed seven good years, even if they occasionally are plagued by terror. That terror almost seems manageable compared to the larger concern of how to be a parent and how to deal with the loss of one. The quotidian is tragic and the bombastic threats can never devastate as effectively. Keret communicates this so lightly that we can’t help but laugh.