Israeli Etgar Keret and Palestinian Samir El-Youssef met at a conference in Switzerland called ‘Fear in One’s Own Land’. Motivated by a desire to show that literature can bridge political divides they have produced a joint volume of stories, Gaza Blues, a sharp and satirical consideration of their shared dilemmas.
Etgar Keret’s contribution is 15 stories, each a glimpse into a surreal world of extreme stress and anxiety. In Keret’s Israel, roadblocks and lost dogs coexist as everyday problems, and the son of the head of Mossad believes that his father owns an earth-moving business. In ‘Surprise Egg’, a suicide bomber’s victim is revealed to have had terminal cancer and the pathologist ponders whether this knowledge will ease or exacerbate her husband’s grief. Keret’s characters operate on a consistent, if skewed, logic, and their behaviour is a sensible response to an insane state of affairs.
Samir El-Youssef’s novella, The Day the Beast Got Thirsty, is a response to equally intolerable circumstances. It is set during the first intifada in the Rashida refugee camp in south Lebanon where the author himself grew up. The narrator, Bassem, is desperate to escape his claustrophobic life by obtaining a visa to Germany. Meanwhile he fills his days by observing the scheming among the rival political factions and making frantic assignations with his lover, Dalal.
As an artistic response to a deadly impasse created by politicians, this collaboration is a searing insight into the terrible human cost when societies run on the basis of walls and fear, and a strong voice raised on behalf of understanding, trust and co-existence.