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Etgar Keret at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Philipp Jedicke
October 21, 2022

He is one of the superstars of the Israeli literary scene: Etgar Keret wrote nine new short stories for the Jewish Museum's exhibition "Inside Out."

Etgar Keret
Etgar Keret is known for his short stories and graphic novelsImage: Anto Magzan/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance

Book authors rarely have an entire exhibition dedicated to them during their lifetime.

On Friday (21.10.2022), the Jewish Museum Berlin launches "Inside Out," a new exhibition entirely based on Israeli literary star Etgar Keret, who wrote nine short stories for the project. 

The stories, based on his life and his mother's memories, will be presented to the public for the first time. They depict everyday family life in Israel, but are also influenced by traumatic war events experienced by his mother, who was born in Poland in 1934.

Objects from the museum's collections were selected to illustrate Keret's texts, and commissioned works by contemporary artists that were created in collaboration with the author are also on display.

"The interplay of memories, objects, and artistic installations allow visitors to enter new, evocative and associative spaces that deliberately defy conventional expectations of a museum visit," according to the museum's website. Keret recorded the audios of the texts, also available on the Jewish Museum's website, in Hebrew and English, while the German translations are narrated by Keret's friend and fellow writer, Daniel Kehlmann.

Jewish Museum Berlin, building with flags in front
Jewish Museum Berlin is Europe's largest Jewish museumImage: Jürgen Ritter/IMAGO

Author, scriptwriter, filmmaker

Born the youngest of three children in Ramat Gan in 1967, Etgar Keret is an internationally renowned and award-winning author. He lives in Tel Aviv and teaches at Ben Gurion University. In the course of his literary career, he has penned novels, non-fiction texts, graphic novels and screenplays, and written for renowned newspapers including The New York Times and Le Monde.

In 2007 he realized the film "Jellyfish" about multicultural life in Tel Aviv, based on a screenplay written by his wife, the filmmaker Shira Geffen. The film was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. He and his wife also created the award-winning miniseries "My Talking Goldfish."

Childhood memories

Keret is best known, however, for his short story collections, including "Missing Kissinger," "Suddenly, a Knock on the Door," "The Seven Good Years," and "Fly Already." German writer Maxim Biller once called Etgar Keret "the best short story writer since Kafka and Hemingway."

In the Berlin exhibition, Keret focuses on his mother's memories and his own childhood. His Polish-born parents, Efraim and Orna Keret, are Holocaust survivors. His father hid in a cave with his family for two years, and his mother escaped from the Warsaw ghetto with her father. He was killed as an underground fighter in the Warsaw Uprising and tasked his daughter with "surviving the war and making sure our name lives on." After spending time in orphanages in Poland and France, Keret's mother emigrated to Israel as the sole survivor of her family, where she met Keret's father, Efraim.

His parents' stories had a strong impact on Keret's childhood and youth. Both were very skeptical of regulations from authorities, and so they usually gave their children free rein. They felt the rules in secondary school were too rigid, so it was entirely up to Etgar whether he wanted to attend.

Inspired by Kafka

During his military service, which he felt was very depressing, Keret read and was profoundly influenced by Franz Kafka's novel "The Metamorphosis," he said in an interview with The New Yorker magazine.

He began writing and found his preferred genre in the literary form of the short story. Keret's stories show quite an affinity for the absurd and he often transcends the boundaries between reality and fantasy — their logic follows dreams, as he once told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

In 1992, he published "Pipelines," his first collection of short stories. His second story collection, the 1994 "Missing Kissinger," made him famous.

He does not see himself as a political person, but he has repeatedly taken a critical look at Israeli politics and the Middle East conflict in guest articles for daily newspapers including Süddeutsche Zeitung, the New York Times and Le Monde.

"I often say that reading basically trains the weakest of all human muscles: the muscle of empathy," Etgar Keret once told DW.

"Inside Out: Etgar Keret" runs from October 21, 2022 to February 5, 2023 at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

This article was originally written in German.