Etgar Keret and the narrative power of irony

From the legacy of Jewish storytelling tradition to reading as identification with the other, to irony as a means to communicate in a straightforward and effective way: the Israeli writer and director Etgar Keret reflects on the connection between humour and storytelling

Short stories, comics and novel writer. As well as scriptwriter and director for TV and movie productions. Etgar Keret is an eclectic personality and his personal story intertwines with the holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is exactly from the Semitic culture and the Yiddish tradition, cradle of oral storytellers, that Keret inherits an extremely versatile linguistic legacy: «The driving force of my storytelling – he declares – is not the desire to manufacture a specific narrative instrument, but to turn an emotion into a story, be it a novel or a movie for children: this is where I feel a deep connection with the Jewish literary heritage».

Therefore, to Keret, stories are “narrated emotions”, but they are also experienced in first person: «Reading a story  – he declares – is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling what it means to be another person. If you go to the gym and you exercise your muscles, when you read a book you exercise your “mass of empathy”. Not only: when you read, you can be anybody else without taking any risk. For instance, you can feel what it’s like to live in a poor neighbourhood without ever being in danger, and this helps us looking at reality from different points of view».

Talking about his latest novel, Sette anni di felicità, where Keret narrates the most dramatic events in his life without ever losing irony, the writer comments like this: «I prefer humour to pathos and self-pity: with irony it’s much easier to communicate and measure things properly. Humour  – he continues – is also an effective tool for dialogue and critique: if you make somebody laugh and criticise him at the same time, you don’t distance him as if you were yelling at him but you get him closer and say “I gave you something, I made you smile and what you have to give me in return is re-think about the things you’re doing”».



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