Akashic Books has published dozens of anthologies of original noir short stories set in cities from Brooklyn to Tehran to Manila and Belfast. Now it has arrived in Tel Aviv. Writers Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron have assembled some of Israel’s top contemporary writers into a delightfully dark, queasy, palpitating collection.
The fourteen stories are set all around Tel Aviv: Florentin, , Dizengoff, Rabin Square, a lobby of a swank hotel on Hayarkon. The stories fall into three sections: “Encounters,” “Estrangements” and “Corpses.” As Keret observes in the book’s introduction, the concept of noir in Tel Aviv may not be immediately understandable to readers, because T-A is one of the happiest, friendliest, most liberal cities in the world.
He writes, “…What could possibly be dark about our sunny city, a city nicknamed ‘The Bubble’ due to its sense of complete separation from the violent, conflicted country in which it is situated?”
But then Keret concedes a point: “Don’t get me wrong — Tel Aviv is a lovely, safe city. Most of the time, for most of its inhabitants. But the stories in this collection describe what happens the rest of the time, to the rest of its inhabitants.” They reveal, in Keret’s words, “the concealed, scarred face of this city that we love so much.”
(By the way: co-editor Gavron has another book, a novel, out in October, “The Hilltop” (translated by Steven Cohen; Scribner), in which the titular setting is the heart of a West Bank settlement; the novel won Gavron the 2013 Bernstein Prize in Israel.)
In one of my favorite stories, an attorney runs a legal newspaper that is supported by the revenue from ads from women who advertise their massage and other personal services. He isn’t a pimp per se, but he does take payment in forms other than money. He falls for a new customer who needs money fast due to her father’s gambling debts and the threats from a not so orthodox Orthodox loan shark. The story gets quite graphic and surprising, and includes all the delicious noir elements of bad cops and tough mobsters from the FSU.
As Ben Gurion sort of said, not only will the scientists be Jewish in a Zionist utopia, but so will the pimps and prostitutes.
The stories include
Part I: Encounters: “Sleeping Mask” by Gadi Taub (Beach Hotels Strip); “Women” by Matan Hermoni (Basel Street); “The Time-Slip Detective” by Lavie Tidhar (Rabin Square); “Slow Cooking” by Deakla Keydar (Levinsky Park)
Part II: Estrangements: “Clear Recent History” by Gon Ben Ari (Magen David Square); “Saïd the Good” by Antonio Ungar (Ajami, Jaffa); “Swirl” by Silje Bekeng (Rothschild Boulevard); “My Father’s Kingdom” by Shimon Adaf (Tel Kabir); “Who’s a Good Boy!” by Julia Farmentto (The Opera Tower)
Part III: Corpses: “The Tour Guide” by Yoav Katz (Neve Sha’anan); “Death in Pajamas” by Alex Epstein (Masarik Square); “The Expendables” by Gai Ad (Ben Zion Boulevard); “Allergies” by Etgar Keret (Florentin); “Center” by Assaf Gavron (Dizengoff Center)
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Also, today, Gary Shteyngart’s memoir of growing up Jewish in the USSR and NYC was published in paperback form. If you tweet him at @Shteyngart this about your own #LITTLEFAILURE, you can perhaps win a t-shirt and a copy of the book.LITTLE FAILURE
By Gary Shteyngart
Random House paperbacks
U.S. Paperback Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Gary (Igor) Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972. A small asthmatic kid, he was nicknamed “Little Failure” or “Failurshka.” Nice, isn’t it? Better than his earlier name of “Snotty.” You think the USSR was bad? In his Hebrew School in Queens, he was bullied and labeled a freak. At Oberlin… not so much. (His parents changed his name to Gary from Igor so so he would “suffer one or two fewer beatings.”)
If you’ve read his hilarious, absurd novels (“The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” “Absurdistan,” “Super Sad True Love Story”), you know that he puts some very weird and funny scenes about family relationships in them. (He wrote his first book at age five, a story of Lenin and His Magical Goose.) So many of his novels are from actual life events, so we get to see the reality on which they are based through his memoir. His grandmother used to bribe him with cheese so he would read. He voraciously learned to like both cheese and reading.
The book opens with the tale of his brief time as a Wall Street paralegal (I will skip the part of the failed circumcision). He farted too much, was too lazy, and probably smoked too much weed, and was fired from the firm. He did use his time on Wall Street wisely, however, and broowsed the 50cent books at the Strand bookstore’s annex at the South Street Seaport. But a mystery begins. In 1996, he suffers a panic attack at the Strand bookstore when he sees a picture of Leningrad’s Chesme Church on Lensovet Street in a used book. He remembers that as a child he and his father played with a toy helicopter there 22 yeas earlier. He freaks out and perspires. And thus begins his quest to learn why he freaked out so much and what happened there before he emigrated in ’79 to America. As we wait to find out what the deal in Leningrad was, we are treated to story of crazy depressive parents who never heard that you are supposed to love your child, drinking, a rewritten parody Torah, a father who tells the bedtime story of “Planet of the Yids,” immigration, schools, misunderstandings (you mean we did not really win $10 million from Publishers’ Clearing House), and the search for a career as a writer.