Reading Keret: Translating the Funhouse

By Adam Rovner

"Hat Trick" first appeared in Missing Kissinger (1994), and has since proved one of Etgar Keret's most popular stories. In 1998, artist Batia Kolton of the Actus Tragicus comics collective adapted the story into a graphic and disturbing tale. You can find it in English as "HaTrick" in Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas (Toby Press, 2006; trans. Dan Ofri). Keret has referred to "Hat Trick" as his ars poetica. There is indeed a strong temptation to view the magician-narrator as symbolic of Keret himself, an author who entertains us as he produces horrors from a secret "dark place" with a mere flip of his writerly wrist. Like many Israelis, the children the magician tries to dazzle are jaded. Too many movies, too many video games, too much televised violence—both simulated and real—have left them desensitized. It is only when the narrator pulls the severed head of his pet rabbit, Kazam, from his magic hat that the kids go wild with applause. Once children wanted to pet and feed him, now they demand its bloody head. "Hat Trick" comments sardonically on a culture fatigued by violence, while at the same time revealing the reader's complicity in perpetuating it.

But the story is more than just a self-reflexive dig at the discourse of gore. It also charts the influence of American culture on Israeli society, and on the Hebrew language itself. The story references Schwarzenegger movies and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and incorporates a number of American words transliterated into Hebrew. Some have become part of daily idiom, words like "trick," "cable," "television" and "video game." Linguistically, Keret's Hebrew discloses the hybridity of cultures and the 1990s onset of globalization. And while many bemoan what they fear to be a creeping homogenization, it's important to note that translators have a positive role to play in uniting our distant global villages.

 

Translators undertake a voyage of discovery on behalf of many readers unable to sail from the safe shores of their native language. Miriam Shlesinger, the translator of "Hat Trick" and "The Night the Buses Died," and Sondra Silverston, translator of "An Exclusive," have managed the difficult feat of bringing Keret's warped world and multiple registers of Hebrew back home to us. Their combined work on The Girl on the Fridge has allowed English readers into Keret's funhouse, without ever domesticating his uncanny vision—and we thank them for it.

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Links to other essays, blog posts and interviews in this series:

Adam Rovner puts Etgar Keret in context.

 

Miriam Shlesinger talks about translating Keret.

Phillip Lopate discusses the roots of Keret's work.

 

Adam Rovner on Reading Keret: Front Line of the Hyperreal.

Nicolle Elizabeth reports on our Keret event at the Idlewild bookstore.

Photos from the event.

 

Adam Rovner interviews Etgar Keret

The video from the Idlewild Event

Adam Rovner talks about "An Exclusive"

The Art of Big Things: Todd Hasak-Lowy on Reading Keret

 

My Favorite Keret Story, from Bud Parr

 

Moshe Ron and Hannan Hever discuss finding Etgar Keret.

 

Resources for further reading (and viewing) on Etgar Keret.


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