Review: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories by Etgar Keret

A collection of Jewish, Israeli and magical realism short stories sounded just like my kind of thing. Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories stings and thrills with fierce fables of modern life. And I had no idea going into this, but it turned out that I was already familiar with the author’s writing from school back when we’d read “Breaking the Pig.” So when I stumbled upon said short story in here, I was beyond joyful to have everything come back.

The author, without a doubt, knows his stuff. Brief, intense, painfully funny, and shockingly honest, Keret’s stories are snapshots that illuminate with intelligence and wit the hidden truths of life. From having a shitty angel friend (“That’s when he finally understood that of all the things the angel had told him, nothing was true. That he wasn’t even an angel, just a liar with wings.”) to joining the circus to Holocaust Memorial Day to someone’s struggle with their compulsive good-heartedness, these swift tales captivated me and reminded me of everything I know and everything I still don’t.

With all that I loved, however, I still think I made a mistake deciding to read the English translation of this collection because it kind of made the writing lose a bit of its magic. From what I recall of reading Keret in school, his humor is better conveyed in the original language. And I just kept thinking throughout that I should’ve read this in Hebrew.

But on a more positive note, I cherished it immensely when strong emotions where evoked out of me while reading. I laughed, raged, rolled my eyes and connected with so many stories and little moments within them.
Moments such as capturing the love we feel for home-cooked meals:

“There’s something nice about home cooking. I mean, it’s hard to explain, but there’s something special about it, a feeling. As if your stomach can figure out that it’s food you didn’t have to pay for, that someone actually made it out of love. ”

To feeling that palpable rage against Nazi German bastards, especially on Holocaust Memorial Day:

“Then an old skinny man got on the stage and told us what bastards and murderers the Nazis were and how he took revenge on them, and even strangled a soldier with his own hands until he died. Jerby, who was sitting next to me, said the old man was lying; the way he looks, there’s no way he can make any soldier bite the dust. But I looked the old man in the eye and believed him. He had so much anger in his eyes, that all the violent rage of iron-pumping hoods I’ve seen seemed like small change in comparison.”

“Finally, when he finished telling us what he had done during the Holocaust, the old man said that what we had just heard was relevant not only to the past but also for what goes on now, because the Germans still exist and still have a state. He said he was never going to forgive them, and that he hoped we, too, would never ever go visit their country. Because when he went with his parents to Germany fifty years ago everything looked nice, but it ended in hell. People have short memories, he said, especially when bad things are concerned. People tend to forget, he said, but you won’t forget. Every time you see a German, you’ll remember what I told you. Every time you see German products, be it television (since most televisions here are made by German manufacturers) or anything else, you’ll always remember that underneath the elegant wrapping are hidden parts and tubes made of bones and skin and flesh of dead Jews.”

And then wrapping the collection up with a good ol’ case of tragicomedy when a man is fed up of being compared his whole life to another “Just like me, only a tiny bit better”:

“We’re about to land, sir. I insist you return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt, like . . .” True, she went on to say “like all the other passengers,” but what I saw in her eyes was Katzenstein. I pushed down on the lever and forced the door open with my shoulder. I was perfectly calm as I was sucked out, leaving all hell behind me.
Suicide is still considered a dreadful sin in the Afterlife. I begged them to try and understand, but they wouldn’t listen. As they were dragging me to Hell, there was Katzenstein. Him and the other passengers, waving at me through the window of the tour bus that was taking them to Heaven. The plane had crashed as it hit the ground, about fifteen minutes after I’d bailed out. A rare malfunction. One in a million. If only I’d stuck it out in my seat another few seconds, like all the other passengers. Like Katzenstein.”


All in all: These stories were real and vulgar and undeniably sincere. I can’t wait to read more of Keret’s writing in the near future.

3.5/5 stars

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Review: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

“There are no coincidences.”

I was trying to read this book along with Amina’s Voice, but quickly realized it wasn’t working in my favor me because as Ron Swanson likes to say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” So I decided to dedicate my sole attention on this tale, and it was beyond magical.

  • We have a phenomenal first chapter from the pov of eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas with a supporting grandmother that tells of her dreams and stories!!
  • We also have an incredible cast of diverse characters who won over my heart:
    – Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous Filipino-American family.
    – Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature.
    – Kaori Tanaka,  whose family is Japanese-American, is a self-proclaimed psychic with a little sister Gen as her second-in-command.
  • Can we take a minute to talk about how Kaori is one of my favorite characters… I genuinely had the bouts of insta-love the minute this twelve-year-old that doesn’t sound like a twelve-year-old because, as she likes to say, “I’m the reincarnated spirit of a 65-year-old freedom fighter” was introduced!!
    Hello, Universe 1-- bookspoils

“Kaori was mildly surprised to get a text from one of her clients (her only client, truth be told) on the first day of summer, particularly at seven forty-five in the morning. But the night before, just as she was gliding to sleep, she’d had the vision of a hawk perched on a giant fence post. Only now she realized it must have been a vulture, not a hawk. And vulture started with V, just like Virgil’s name. The connection couldn’t have been clearer.”

This girl with “her powers of second sight” is something else…

  • the humor is on point:

“Something will happen to you,” Kaori continued.
Virgil looked at Gen. She shrugged.
“That’s it?” said Virgil. “Something will happen to me?”
“I see darkness,” said Kaori.
“Your eyes are closed.”

Honestly, dare I say iconic… both for making me laugh out loud and for the subtle foreshadowing thrown in from the author (which I’d thought at first to be just her having a laugh). But circling back to the humor, these brilliantly vivid characters reminded me of the kids from Stranger Things being their best selves on TV!!

And:

  • And moving on to Virgil’s Lola – aka the best literary grandmother ever – she was a force of nature. I could always count on her old ghost stories and dreams to fully capture my spirit. Also, she’s just one hell of a supportive adult!!!

“Sorry, Lola,” Virgil muttered. “I was just thinking about something that happened on the last day of school.”
Lola tossed the garbage pizza in the cart. “What? What happen?” She was always ready to hear gossip, no matter where it came from.”

This is me. This is who I am.

  • So as Kaori had foretold to Virgil – “What I mean is, I see you in a dark place.” “Dark how?” “Just dark.” – he’d gotten trapped at the bottom of an old well thanks to the worst of humans throwing Virgil’s backpack, which had Gulliver, his pet guinea pig, in it. Which is also when I noticed what the cover, though absolutely gorgeous, happens to spoil if you’d skipped reading the blurb.
  • Oh, and circling back to the worst of humans, I have only one thing to say to the bully, Chet Bullens, whose family is probably full of Trump supporters…tumblr_oaesann93b1qet8ilo1_250
  • On a more positive note, there’s some magical realism aspects thrown in to further enchant my heart.
  • And the story continues full of busy happenings that lead to friendship, kinship and family. In the end, I just ended up adoring this group of explorers. Plus, I really hope Tanaka and Somerset will go into business as promised. (Maybe we’ll even get a sequel/ novella on that idea…)
  • And last but not last, I was as joyful as my girl Valencia from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when the story ended on such sweet and hopeful note.tumblr_o7o1w7snid1si3gq6o1_500

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Hello, Universe, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar

This has been on my wishlist for ages because the promise of representing practicing Jewish characters in the graphic novel format (by an #ownvoices author!!!) sounded just like my kind of thing.

Set in Algeria in the 1930s, a cat belonging to a widowed rabbi and his beautiful daughter, Zlabya, eats the family parrot and gains the ability to speak. To his master’s consternation, the cat immediately begins to tell lies (the first being that he didn’t eat the parrot). The rabbi vows to educate him in the ways of the Torah, while the cat insists on studying the kabbalah and having a Bar Mitzvah. They consult the rabbi’s rabbi, who maintains that a cat can’t be Jewish — but the cat, as always, knows better.

Zlabya falls in love with a dashing young rabbi from Paris, and soon master and cat, having overcome their shared self-pity and jealousy, are accompanying the newlyweds to France to meet Zlabya’s cosmopolitan in-laws. Full of drama and adventure, their trip invites countless opportunities for the rabbi and his cat to grapple with all the important — and trivial — details of life.

There’s so much I crave to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning:

The Rabbi's Cat 2-- bookspoilsThese topics are ones I see and talk about in my daily life, but unfortunately rarely in the books I read… So I’ll never stop thanking Joann Sfar for giving Jews this major platform. The Rabbi's Cat 4-- bookspoilsAnd I loved the concept of the cat wanting to study the Kabbalah, since I recently got myself a book on the same topic.The Rabbi's Cat 1-- bookspoils

The Rabbi's Cat 5-- bookspoilsI was expecting this book to focus heavily on Zlabya and the cat (since they’re on the book cover), but that wasn’t the case. The Rabbi’s Cat, like the title suggest, is more about the bickering between the Rabbi and his cat, which I gradually grew fond of.The Rabbi's Cat 8-- bookspoilsOn that note, I laughed uncontrollably a number of times at some of the more crude remarks made by the cat, such as:

The Rabbi's Cat 6-- bookspoils

The Rabbi's Cat 7-- bookspoilsI still feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to see these kinds of conversations in a book!!!The Rabbi's Cat 9-- bookspoilsHa! Family is everything…

But with all that I loved, once the family traveled to Paris – to meet with the family of Zlabya’s husband – the narrative became a bit unclear. Plus, the emphasis on Jewish traditions being slowly dropped to make place for Western culture made the graphic novel deteriorate in quality for me. I cherished The Rabbi’s Cat for solely focusing on Jews in Algeria and their customs and traditions. So when halfway through the storyline shifted to make space for Western culture, I was let down. The author had such a great opportunity to educate and enlighten people on Sephardi Jews – which he did greatly for the first half – but then in the last part decides to give the spotlight once again to the Westerns…
The Rabbi's Cat 12-- bookspoilsI wish this moment would’ve been expanded to talk more about how messed up some white people are…

The Rabbi's Cat 13-- bookspoils


All in all: The Rabbi’s Cat is something I’ll cherish for a long time to come; it’s not everyday that you find something so close to home. And thankfully there’s a movie adaptation that I plan on watching next!

4.5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Rabbi’s Cat, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!