Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

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Overview

Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the ...

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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

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Overview

Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation.

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Editorial Reviews

Steve Almond
Reduced to their outlines…these [stories] can sound gimmicky. But Keret alights upon protagonists in the midst of psychic upheaval, willing to embrace the bizarre twists that deliver them to their appointed grace or ruin. The humor in their travails arises not from an effort to charm the reader but to confront the darkness that shadows our human folly…[Keret]'s most effective when he strips away the constraints of realism and gives rein to his subversive imagination.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In this slim volume of flash fiction and short stories, Israeli author/filmmaker Keret (The Nimrod Flipout; the film Jellyfish) writes with alternating Singeresque magical realism and Kafkaesque absurdity, to mixed effect. Bookended by cautionary tales of writers at work—the title story and “What Animal Are You?”—this collection often takes characters beyond their comfort zones into scenarios of twisted reality. In “Ari,” a man suspects that everyone named Ari is after him. In “Bad Karma,” an insurance salesman tries to recover from being struck by the body of a suicidal jumper. In the longest and most satisfying story, “Surprise Party,” three strangers are the only guests at a celebration from which the guest of honor is strangely absent, and then they help the man’s wife search for him, concerned that he may have suicidal or homicidal tendencies. Many of Keret’s stories are literary doodles; others seem to be concepts in search of a few good characters. Readers tuned in to the author’s narrow-band broadcast will be pleased. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander, on behalf of Nilli Cohen at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. (Apr.)
Kyle Smith
Keret can do more with six . . . paragraphs than most writers can with 600 pages.
People
From the Publisher
“I feel that the best thing that can happen to a writer is for someone to interpret your text. It is a great experience, listening to your words.” – Etgar Keret

“An all-star roster of narrators masterfully performs the audio edition of Keret’s latest collection, which mixes humor, emotion, absurdity, morality, and humility…the result is a truly inspired series of performances and an utterly entertaining audiobook. Listening quickly becomes a compulsion.” – Publishers Weekly

“Examples of the talented narrators include Josh Charles, who has a deep, round tone and a gentle manner that perfectly complements the author’s words, and Adam Thirlwell’s British accent, which supports a strong, robust reading about lying. It’s an excellent audio and literary experience.” – AudioFile Magazine

“Keret’s greatest book yet—the most funny, dark, and poignant. It’s tempting to say these stories are his most Kafkaesque, but in fact they are his most Keretesque.” —Jonathan Safran Foer

“Etgar Keret’s stories are funny, with tons of feeling, driving towards destinations you never see coming. They’re written in the most unpretentious, chatty voice possible, but they’re also weirdly poetic. They stick in your gut. You think about them for days. “ —Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life

“Strangeness abounds. Keret fits so much psychological and social complexity and metaphysical mystery into these quick, wry, jolting, funny, off-handedly fabulist miniatures, they’re like literary magic tricks: no matter how closely you read, you can’t figure out how he does it.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (March 15)

“His pieces elicit comparison to sources as diverse as Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen . . . [Keret is] a writer who is often very funny and inventive, and occasionally profound.” —Kirkus Reviews (March 15)

“Israeli author Keret writes sometimes appealingly wacky, sometimes darkly absurdist stories that translate well to America . . . Sophisticated readers should check this out.” —Library Journal, pre-pub alert

“In this slim volume of flash fiction and short stories, Israeli author/filmmaker Keret (The Nimrod Flipout; the film Jellyfish) writes with alternating Singeresque magical realism and Kafkaesque absurdity.” —Publishers Weekly

“This collection of short stories brims with invention . . . Etgar Keret is a great short story writer whose work is all the greater because it’s funny . . . [He] most becomes himself in comedy shorts, telling tales of the absurd and the surreal . . . As one of the 20th century’s great comic writers—and one of Keret’s true precursors—might have said, so it goes . . . To complain about Keret being Keret is like complaining about Chekhov being Chekhov.” —Ian Sansom, The Guardian

“[Keret] deserves full marks for chutzpah . . . His work zings with imaginative conceits, clever asides and self-conscious twists. Yet there is also an easygoing quality to his writing that makes the 37 stories collected here instantly likeable . . . his stories assume an anecdotal style that gives them an air of spontaneity, as if he were relating them over a cup of coffee in one of the Tel Aviv cafes frequented by his characters . . . Keret’s willingness to develop quirky concepts (one story features a magic, talking goldfish) would seem to grant him a place alongside such idiosyncratic writers as Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Italo Calvino. But if his work is sometimes reminiscent of these writers, it also carves out its own territory.” —James Ley, The Sydney Morning Herald

“A brilliant writer . . . completely unlike any writer I know. The voice of the next generation.” —Salman Rushdie

“Keret can do more with six . . .paragraphs than most writers can with 600 pages.” —Kyle Smith, People

Library Journal
Israeli author Keret writes sometimes appealingly wacky, sometimes darkly absurdist stories that translate well to America. He's had pieces in Harper's Magazine and the Paris Review and has been featured on NPR. Sophisticated readers should check this out.
Kirkus Reviews
Stories about storytelling from a young Israeli author. With stories this short (many are a paragraph or two or a page or two, making the 22 pages of the penultimate "Surprise Party" feel like an epic), every word counts, so it's quite possible that something has been lost in the translation (with no slight intended to the three translators credited, including noted author Nathan Englander). However these stories might read differently in Hebrew, and signify something different within a different cultural context, they function like fables and parables, fairy tales and jokes, with goldfish that grant wishes, parallel universes, an insurance agent who suffers (and then prospers) from his own lack of insurance, a woman who mourns her miscarriage with a creative-writing course (with her husband becoming jealous of the instructor and responding by writing his own revelatory stories). Bookending the collection are two stories featuring a writer as protagonist, a first-person narrator that the reader is invited to identify as the author, who is being forced to perform the act of writing for the benefit of others. The first, the title story, finds him coerced to create at gunpoint, conjuring a plot that proceeds to transpire within the story as he takes some pleasure from "creating something out of something." The final story, "What Animal Are You?," shows the self-conscious writer being filmed for a TV feature as he's in the process of writing (or at least simulating it), wondering whether a hooker might seem more natural on camera as his wife than his wife does. His pieces elicit comparison to sources as diverse as Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen. He also recalls Lydia Davis in his compression and Donald Barthelme in his whimsy. Yet the stories are hit-and-miss, some of them slight or obvious, though the suggestion that "in the end, everyone gets the Hell or the Heaven he deserves" might be a fantasy that readers will wish were true. More like bits and sketches than stories, from a writer who is often very funny and inventive, and occasionally profound.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780701186678
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012

Meet the Author

Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Etgar Keret is the author of six bestselling story collections. His writing has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope. Jellyfish, his first movie as a director along with his wife, Shira Geffen, won the Camera d’Or prize for best first feature at Cannes in 2007. In 2010 he was named a Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

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Read an Excerpt

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

Stories
By Etgar Keret

FSG Originals

Copyright © 2012 Etgar Keret
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374533335

WHAT, OF THIS GOLDFISH, WOULD YOU WISH?

Yonatan had a brilliant idea for a documentary. He’d knock on doors. Just him. No camera crew, no nonsense. Just·Yonatan, on his own, a small camera in hand, asking, “If you found a talking goldfish that granted you three wishes, what would you wish for?”

Folks would give their answers, and Yoni would edit them down and make clips of the more surprising responses. Before every set of answers, you’d see the person standing stock-still in the entrance to his house. Onto this shot he’d superimpose the subject’s name, family situation, monthly income, and maybe even the party he’d voted for in the last election. All that, combined with the three wishes, and maybe he’d end up with a poignant piece of social commentary, a testament to the massive rift between our dreams and the often comprimised reality in which we live.

It was genius, Yoni was sure. And, if not, at least it was cheap. All he needed was a door to knock on and a heart beating on the other side. With a little decent footage, he was sure he’d be able to sell it to Channel 8 or Discovery in a flash, either as a film or as a bunch of vignettes, little cinematic corners, each with that singular soul standing in a doorway, followed by three killer wishes, precious, every one.

Even better, maybe he’d cash out, package it with a slogan and sell it to a bank or cellular phone company. Maybe tag it with something like “Different dreams, different wishes, one bank.” Or “The bank that makes dreams come true.”

No prep, no plotting, natural as can be, Yoni grabbed his camera and went out knocking on doors. In the first neighborhood he went to, the kindly folk that took part generally requested the foreseeable things: health, money, bigger apartments, either to shave off a couple of years or a couple of pounds. But there were also powerful moments. One drawn, wizened old lady asked simply for a child. A Holocaust survivor with a number on his arm asked very slowly, in a quiet voice—as if he’d been waiting for Yoni to come, as if it wasn’t an exercise at all—he’d been wondering (if this fish didn’t mind), would it be possible for all the Nazis left living in the world to be held accountable for their crimes? A cocky, broad-shouldered lady-killer put out his cigarette and, as if the camera wasn’t there, wished he were a girl. “Just for a night,” he added, holding a single finger right up to the lens.

And these were wishes from just one short block in one small, sleepy suburb of Tel Aviv. Yonatan could hardly imagine what people were dreaming of in the development towns and the collectives along the northern border, in the West Bank settlements and Arab villages, the immigrant absorption centers full of broken trailers and tired people left to broil out in the desert sun.

Yonatan knew that if the project was going to have any weight, he’d have to get to everyone, to the unemployed, to the ultrareligious, to the Arabs and Ethiopians and American expats. He began to plan a shooting schedule for the coming days: Jaffa, Dimona, Ashdod, Sderot, Taibe, Talpiot. Maybe Hebron, even. If he could sneak past the wall, Hebron would be great. Maybe somewhere in that city some beleaguered Arab man would stand in his doorway and, looking through Yonatan and his camera, looking out into nothingness, just pause for a minute, nod his head, and wish for peace—that would be something to see.

Sergei Goralick doesn’t much like strangers banging on his door. Especially when those strangers are asking him questions. In Russia, when Sergei was young, it happened plenty. The KGB felt right at home knocking on his door. His father had been a Zionist, which was pretty much an invitation for them to drop by any old time.

When Sergei got to Israel and then moved to Jaffa, his family couldn’t wrap their heads around it. They’d ask him, What are you looking to find in a place like that? There’s no one there but addicts and Arabs and pensioners. But what is most excellent about addicts and Arabs and pensioners is that they don’t come around knocking on Sergei’s door. That way Sergei can get his sleep, and get up when it’s still dark. He can take his little boat out into the sea and fish until he’s done fishing. By himself. In silence. The way it should be. The way it was.

Until one day some kid with a ring in his ear, looking a little bit homosexual, comes knocking. Hard like that—rapping at his door. Just the way Sergei doesn’t like. And he says, this kid, that he has some questions he wants to put on the TV.

Sergei tells the boy, tells him in what he thinks is a straightforward manner, that he doesn’t want it. Not interested. Sergei gives the camera a shove, to help make it clear. But the earring boy is stubborn. He says all kinds of things, fast things. And it’s hard for Sergei to follow; his Hebrew isn’t so good.

The boy slows down, tells Sergei he has a strong face, a nice face, and that he simply has to have him for this movie picture. Sergei can also slow down, he can also make clear. He tells the kid to fuck off. But the kid is slippery, and somehow between saying no and pushing the door closed, Sergei finds that the kid is in his house. He’s already making his movie, running his camera without any permission, and from behind the camera he’s still telling Sergei about his face, that it’s full of feeling, that it’s tender. Suddenly the kid spots Sergei’s goldfish flitting around in its big glass jar in his kitchen.

The kid with the earring starts screaming, “Goldfish, goldfish,” he’s so excited. And this, this really pressures Sergei, who tells the kid, it’s nothing, just a regular goldfish, stop filming it. Just a goldfish, Sergei tells him, just something he found flapping around in the net, a deep-sea goldfish. But the boy isn’t listening. He’s still filming and getting closer and saying something about talking and fish and a magic wish.

Sergei doesn’t like this, doesn’t like that the boy is almost at it, already reaching for the jar. In this instant Sergei understands the boy didn’t come for television, what he came for, specifically, is to snatch Sergei’s fish, to steal it away. Before the mind of Sergei Goralick really understands what it is his body has done, he seems to have taken the burner off the stove and hit the boy in the head. The boy falls. The camera falls with him. The camera breaks open on the floor, along with the boy’s skull. There’s a lot of blood coming out of the head, and Sergei really doesn’t know what to do.

That is, he knows exactly what to do, but it really would complicate things. Because if he takes this kid to the hospital, people are going to ask what happened, and it would take things in a direction Sergei doesn’t want to go.

“No reason to take him to the hospital anyway,” says the goldfish, in Russian. “That one’s already dead.”

“He can’t be dead,” Sergei says, with a moan. “I barely touched him. It’s only a burner. Only a little thing.” Sergei holds it up to the fish, taps it against his own skull to prove it. “It’s not even that hard.”

“Maybe not,” says the fish. “But, apparently, it’s harder than that kid’s head.”

“He wanted to take you from me,” Sergei says, almost crying.

“Nonsense,” the fish says. “He was only here to make a little something for TV.”

“But he said …”

“He said,” says the fish, interrupting, “exactly what he was doing. But you didn’t get it. Honestly, your Hebrew, it’s terrible.”

“Yours is better?” Sergei says. “Yours is so great?”

“Yes. Mine’s supergreat,” the goldfish says, sounding impatient. ‘‘I’m a magic fish. I’m fluent in everything:” All the while the puddle of blood from the earring kid’s head is getting bigger and bigger and Sergei is on his toes, up against the kitchen wall, desperate not to step in it, not to get blood on his feet.

“You do have one wish left,” the fish reminds Sergei. He says it easy like that, as if Sergei doesn’t know—as if either of them ever loses count.

“No,” Sergei says. He’s shaking his head from side to side. “I can’t,” he says. “I’ve been saving it. Saving it for something.”

“For what?” the fish says.

But Sergei won’t answer.

That first wish, Sergei used up when they discovered a cancer in his sister. A lung cancer, the kind you don’t get better from. The fish undid it in an instant—the words barely out of Sergei’s mouth. The second wish Sergei used up five years ago, on Sveta’s boy. The kid was still small then, barely three, but the doctors already knew something in her son’s head wasn’t right. He was going to grow big but not in the brain. Three was about as smart as he’d get. Sveta cried to Sergei in bed all night. Sergei walked home along the beach when the sun came up, and he called to the fish, asked the goldfish to fix it as soon as he’d crossed through the door. He never told Sveta. And a few months later she left him for some cop, a Moroccan with a shiny Honda. In his heart, Sergei kept telling himself it wasn’t for Sveta that he’d done it, that he’d wished his wish purely for the boy. In his mind, he was less sure, and all kinds of thoughts about other things he could have done with that wish continued to gnaw at him, half driving him mad. The third wish, Sergei hadn’t yet wished for.

“I can restore him,” says the goldfish. “I can bring him back to life.”

“No one’s asking,” Sergei says.

“I can bring him back to the moment before,” the goldfish says. “To before he knocks on your door. I can put him back to right there. I can do it. All you need to do is ask.”

“To wish my wish,” Sergei says. “My last.”

The fish swishes his fish tail back and forth in the water, the way he does, Sergei knows, when he’s truly excited. The goldfish can already taste freedom. Sergei can see it on him.

After the last wish, Sergei won’t have a choice. He’ll have to let the goldfish go. His magic goldfish. His friend.

“Fixable,” Sergei says. “I’ll just mop up the blood. A good sponge and it’ll be like it never was.”

That tail just goes back and forth, the fish’s head steady.

Sergei takes a deep breath. He steps out into the middle of the kitchen, out into the puddle. “When I’m fishing, while it’s dark and the world’s asleep,” he says, half to himself and half to the fish, “I’ll tie the kid to a rock and dump him in the sea. Not a chance, not in a million years, will anyone ever find him.”

“You killed him, Sergei,” the goldfish says. “You murdered someone—but you’re not a murderer.” The goldfish stops swishing his tail. “If, on this, you won’t waste a wish, then tell me, Sergei, what is it good for?”

It was in Bethlehem, actually, that Yonatan found his Arab, a handsome man who used his first wish for peace. His name was Munir; he was fat with a big white mustache. Superphotogenic. It was moving, the way he said it. Perfect, the way in which Munir wished his wish. Yoni knew even as he was filming that this guy would be his promo for sure.

Either him or that Russian. The one with the faded tattoos that Yoni had met in Jaffa. The one that looked straight into the camera and said, if he ever found a talking goldfish he wouldn’t ask of it a single thing. He’d just stick it on a shelf in a big glass jar and talk to him all day, it didn’t matter about what. Maybe sports, maybe politics, whatever a goldfish was interested in chatting about.

Anything, the Russian said, not to be alone.



Continues...

Excerpted from Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret Copyright © 2012 by Etgar Keret. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How were you affected by the way the title story and the closing story, “What Animal Are You?,” describe writers versus audiences? Does the story in “The Story, Victorious” fulfill the high expectations that were set for it?

2. If you were to pull the arm of the gumball machine in “Lieland,” what would you encounter? Who were the most interesting characters in your past lies? 

3. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door features many scenes of unresolved love, from Miron in “Healthy Start,” who is willing to get punched for someone else’s infidelity so that he can experience human interaction, to the narrator of “Not Completely Alone,” whose beloved is involved with a married man. Which of the book’s love stories resonated the most with you?

4. Most of the book’s characters face a startling fate: “Cheesus Christ” features a butterfly effect involving clinical depression, miscommunication, and sheer bad luck; Simyon dies in a terrorist attack, leaving behind a widow who barely knew him but will enjoy the pension; Oshri in “Bad Karma” survives when jumper Nattie lands on his head, but Oshri is wistful for his comatose days. What do the book’s death tales tell us about survival?

5. What common traits are shared by all the characters, regardless of whether they are Arab, Israeli, or American? Does gender affect the personalities of the characters, or are the book’s men and women equally neurotic/rational, pushy/passive?

6. How did you react to the final scenes in “Pick a Color” and “One Step Beyond?” What interpretation of God is offered in each of these stories?

7. Reincarnation abounds in this collection, from Bertha in “Bitch,” who becomes a traveling poodle, to Shkedi in “Guava,” who arranges for peace on earth but becomes a terrified guava. If you were to be reincarnated as a nonhuman, what would your best and worst options look like?

8. In stories of punishment, such as “A Good One” (in which entrepreneur Gershon gets clobbered by a security guard while trying to market his board game, Stop—Police), is there any justice? Or is there only irony?

9. How did the collection’s depictions of children (ranging from “The Polite Little Boy” to the demanding Hillel in “Big Blue Bus”) compare to your memories of childhood? What does Roiki’s story in “Teamwork” say about the way parents explain the world to their children, and the aspects of childhood we never leave behind?

10. Discuss the power and achievements of the hemorrhoid in the story by the same name. Is the hemorrhoid an allegorical character that can teach us important life lessons? Or is it just incredibly funny? 

11. Several of the stories address financial issues directly, especially “September All Year Long” and “Grab the Cuckoo by the Tail.” What does Suddenly, a Knock on the Door say about the relationship between wealth and doom?

12. What, of the goldfish, would you wish?  

13. In stories such as “Unzipping” and “Pudding,” the characters assume new identities in an instant. How does Keret make his surrealism seem realistic?

14. What universal fears and longings are expressed in the intertwining lives of “Surprise Party”?

15. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door features more than a hundred characters and dozens of sometimes interlocking story lines. What does this indicate about the versatility of short fiction? What can short stories achieve that a novel can’t?

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  • Posted April 28, 2012

    Keret is an amazing writer. If you haven't read him don't walk -

    Keret is an amazing writer. If you haven't read him don't walk - RUN. Surreal and funny!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

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    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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