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 Gaza Blues

Etgar Keret and Samir el-Youssef

 

"Nachum happened on the ad completely by chance, somewhere between the daily horoscope and the sex toys."

" I liked listening to Ahmad, especially after I had had a couple of joints. But sometimes Ahmad used to say things that made me realise that unless I leave the country I shall go mad. "

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Gaza Blues could be seen as symbolic. After all, it is a first: a collaboration between Israeli writer Etgar Keret and Lebanese-born Palestinian writer Samir El-yousef. Luckily, though, this collection of 15 short stories and a novella is far more than that: it is an excellent, funny and poignant read, more telling about the writers' respective cultures and the situations of their peoples than a dozen news reports could ever do.

One of Israel's most popular writers 39-year-old Keret, who lectures in film at Tel Aviv University, contributes the short stories, darkly funny, surreal and moving pieces. His style is raw; there are few descriptions of anything, often his characters remain nameless. He plunges us straight into the action, as illustrated by several opening lines: “That night I dreamt that I was a forty-year-old woman and my husband was a retired colonel”; “Nachum happened on the ad completely by chance, somewhere between the daily horoscope and the sex toys”; “I got Clint for my ninth birthday from Sammy Zagoori who was probably the cheapest kid in the class”.

The stories deal with topics from finding your wife glued to the ceiling and the remarkable dog-who-always-came-back, to the jealous spouse who demands her mother-in-law's heart as proof of love, and, of course, nothing less than the meaning of life (for only 9.99). However, underlying the surface comedy are deep truths about family, relationships, Israeli life, the Holocaust, war, love and death.

Forty-one-year-old El-youseff was born in Lebanon and his novella, The Day the Beast Got Thirsty, also employs satire and surrealism to portray life in a Palestinian refugee camp in that country. His protagonist is an anti-hero, addicted to “cannabis and tablets”, scathing about all those around him,  and desparate to move to Germany. He wanders about the camp, meeting up with various larger-than-life characters, such as Ahmad. “I liked listening to Ahmad,” he tells us. “I liked listening to Ahmad, especially after I had had a couple of joints. But sometimes Ahmad used to say things that made me realise that unless I leave the country I shall go mad.” Ahmad is a member of Fatah but constantly swears about Yassir Arafat, and has decided to produce a play to illustrate the situation of the Palestinian people.

Our narrator's aimless wanderings and his lack of true relationships with anyone in the camp demonstrate the futility of life in a place which can never be home. The camp is also a place of violence, not just from the “Zionist enemy” but inter-factional violence. El-yousef, who himself now lives in London, has no glib message of hope, just an ability to laugh even when things seem at their bleakest.

(This review first appeared in Transmission magazine).

Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Tania's first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Salt Publishing in June 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher: David Paul Books

Publication Date: May 2004

Paperback/Hardback?Paperback

First collection?:Collaboration

Author bios:

Etgar Keret, born in Tel-Aviv in 1967 is a popular author amongst Israeli youth who see him as expressing their world. All his books have been bestsellers and he has been translated world-wide. He lectures at the Tel Aviv University Film School. His film Skin Deep won an Israeli Oscar, and his film, Jellyfish, the film he directed with his wife, Shira Geffen, won the Camera d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

Samir El-Youssef was born in the Lebanon in 1965 now living in London. He is an essayist, short story writer and reviewer. He is a regular contributor to major Arab periodicals and to London-based Arabic news services. His first collection of stories 'Domestic Affairs' was published in Beirut in 1994.

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