Has Etgar Keret Finally Lost His Marbles?

The world’s skinniest house is seriously skinny. Five feet wide at it’s widest point, and three feet wide at its thinnest, it’s got design enthusiasts buzzing and claustrophobics cringing. The house has literally been squeezed into an alleyway between two other houses on a street in Warsaw, Poland, and, as Fast Company writer Suzanne Labarre says, “could make Calista Flockhart look like a fatty.”
Why are we talking about a house that’s too skinny to fit this cat? Because Israeli writer Etgar Keret is the owner. Well, technically it’s designated as a piece of art and an artists’ salon. But it will be the official residence of Mr. Keret when he visits Poland on his biannual trips to the country. Why would someone agree to such a thing? Because Etgar Keret is crazy. And brilliant. And hilarious. And weird. And gut-churning. And did we mention weird?
Etgar Keret will also be coming to Minneapolis on Wednesday as part of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Sabes JCC’s Culture BLVD: Israeli Author Series. Info about this event can also be found in the Twin Cities Jewish Book Fair program, presented by the St. Paul JCC. And TC Jewfolk editor Bradley Machov will be MCing the show! It’s just one big ol’ Jewish lovefest for Etgar’s love and blessing. At 7 PM on Wednesday, November 14th, Keret will read from and sign copies of his latest book of short stories, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. “If you read one book of short stories this year,” praised The Daily Mail, “It should be this one.”
(If you read one short story this year, praised TC Jewfolk editor Bradley Machov, read “Cheesus Christ.”)
Like all of Keret’s books, the stories in his latest work examine a range of quasi-realistic subjects – storytelling, suicide, hemorrhoids – yet they’re told with such breathtaking humanity and absurdity that he’s acquired some of the world’s foremost storytellers as die-hard fans — This American Life‘s Ira Glass, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer and Salman Rushdie among them.
In an article in Tablet magazine, Keret explains how he, one of Israel’s most prolific authors, is suddenly making headlines as the inhabitant of the world’s skinniest home. It turns out Keret was minding his business, in a house of normal proportions, when a Polish architect named Jakub Szczesny called. What one can only imagine as a rather awkward conversation ensued.

“….[Szczesny] tried to explain by phone that he wanted to build a home for me in Warsaw, the narrowest home in the world. At the time, I thought his crazy idea, along with his heavily Polish-accented English, which made our conversation comical, had to be a practical joke engineered by one of my friends.”

But Szczesny was serious. Keret’s books of short stories are beloved around the world, and his radical tales inspired the experimental architect to build a space that echoed the tight confines of a short story. Once Keret was sure Szczesny wasn’t pulling his leg, the author looked into the home’s location and made a mind-boggling discovery: his family had a history on the exact street where the home was to be built.
“I took a computer-simulated picture of the house and showed it to my mother,” Keret wrote in Tablet.  “To my surprise, she recognized the street immediately.” Keret learned that during World War II, the site had been a bridge linking two ghettos. “When my mother smuggled in food for her parents, she had to get past a barricade there, manned by Nazi soldiers. She knew that if she were caught carrying a loaf of bread, they’d kill her right there.”
Narrowly escaping the fate of so many in Poland during World War II, Keret’s mother made a home in Israel, where she still lives. “For me,” Keret told The New York Times, it’s a kind of metaphor for my family reclaiming a place in Poland.”
With a bathroom approximately the dimensions of an airplane bathroom and a 35 inch wide living area, Keret will not live in the house full time. In fact, the house has been deemed too small to be a residence by Polish law and will be used as a temporary artist’s residence, with Keret and Szczesny selecting the artists. But Keret will be the first. As he told The New York Times, “It seems fitting to try to create in it. The house will be a portal to all kinds of artistic initiatives.”
The Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation is dedicated to helping the Twin Cities experience the unique culture of Israel. Through its Culture BLVD: Israeli Author Series, co-sponsored by the Sabes JCC, the Israel Center will continue bringing quality Israeli authors to the community. For more information about the Israeli Author Series, click here.
This piece was co-written by Daci Platt and Bradley Machov.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)