Renowned Israeli writer Etgar Keret gave insight into his passion for storytelling and the influence of his personal life on his short stories at an event Tuesday night in the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s Geological Lecture Hall.
“At a very early age I decided that when I grow up I wanted to become a drunk, male prostitute,” he said.
Keret explained how his parents were the first to imbue him with a passion for storytelling. “My parents were both excellent storytellers,” he said. “But they would never read to me from books.”
While his mother told him “fantastical stories about fairies,” his father’s tales “took place in the whorehouse,” Keret said, “and all his protagonists were prostitutes and drunk people.” Although perhaps not the normal subject for bedtime stories, the stories of his father’s time spent living above a whorehouse, “really educated me for life,” said Keret. “They were really full of love, and hope.”
At the event sponsored by the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies and the Consul General of Israel to New England, Keret alternated between reading his short stories and speaking on topics ranging from family to loneliness to the subjectivity of art.
Keret then shifted to discuss his own experiences later in life and the impact they had on his writing.
Keret used his story called “Healthy Start” to illustrate this effect. The story, which stemmed from a chance encounter Keret had in Berlin, features a lonely man who would engage in random conversations with total strangers.
“The story kind of began with something that resembled the situation,” said Keret, “but it went in directions that weren’t dictated.” The story was written to convey how lonely he felt during his time in Berlin, a time that he described as “something that looks very nice on my bio, but...was one of the worst times of my life.”
Keret went on to explain how writing had actually helped him to combat loneliness. “When you write in a first-person narrative, you can kind of make yourself...feel like you’re less lonely,” he said.
Keret said he hopes that, through his stories, the reality of human experience can be shared.
“I think that art is always subjective and gives you the benefit to feel the subjective experience of another mind or entity,” he said. “I really don’t like to be limited by any rules...when I come to write. I really want to tell the things that I think are most real.”
Maxbetter S. Vizelberg ’14, a student in the Modern Hebrew program, said that the insights Keret gave into his life at the event were illuminating. “I was really glad to see that not only is he a wonderful author, he’s a wonderful dad,” said Vizelberg, “Seeing the man come alive...that was really amazing.”