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Etgar Keret & Asaf Hanuka

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Two days after I killed myself, I found a job at some pizza joint called Kamikaze."

What an exceptional opening sentence.

Unfortunately it's the ninth, so I made it my own first instead.

Pizzas are not important to this weird and wonderful twilight tale. Unless I'm missing something, they're incidental. The fact that Mordy committed suicide is not.

Our man Mordy offed himself a short while ago, and has since been reborn into a world which is much like our own, with two key differences: everyone here committed suicide; but the pressure is all gone.

No one seems to be in actual need of a job or its income, nor do they harbour the same worries or insecurities which might have catalysed their crises in the first place, or the sort of judgemental prejudices which could have once been redirected at them. Oh, Mordy has more than a passing curiosity in spotting any tell-tale scars which might denote how others killed themselves, but that really is the extent of it. No one is blaming each other; and nobody cares... about anything, really. Apart from musing on who may have made it to his funeral and what they'd have thought, Mordy is fairly equanimous to it all.

It's just a bit dull and disappointing, to be honest.

"Whenever people used to talk about life after death and go through the "is-there-isn't-there" routine, I'd always imagine beeping sounds and people floating around in space and stuff. But now that I'm here, it reminds me of Tel Aviv.
"My German roommate says the place could just as well be Frankfurt. I guess Frankfurt's a dump too."

Uzi Gelfand has a great big bullet hole in his head, but he's much happier now, having found his parents reincarnated in this shared limbo because they'd reacted similarly to the anxieties that life had in store for them. Plus his little brother is newly arrived, having offed himself during Basic Training in the conscriptive Israeli army, so now they're all living together, bonded in the afterlife as never before through their shared exiting option.

I think the bullet through the brain must have taken his internal editor with it, because Uzi isn't half the opinionated, contrarian bore.

So yes, it's a life of dark bars (one's called Stiff Drinks!), playing at pool, and perhaps pulling if you care to. But Mordy shares none of Uzi's interest in girls, for his libido's been lost in this limbo too. Until Mordy discovers, via a previous room-mate, that the girlfriend Desirée - whom he adored and who survived him in life to mourn at his graveside - has arrived in this afterlife too. Now, there is a new, unexpected impetus: locating Desirée and discovering why she committed suicide. Clue: it wasn't over Mordy.

So it is that Mordy persuades a reluctant Uzi to join him on a journey in a car with no headlights into a countryside which could well be endless, in a world without maps. It's not just topography that's absent; it may well be topologically unstable too.

Along the way they pick up young Leehee, a woman who shows no overt evidence of having offed herself at all. Unlike the others, she misses everything about her prior existence and is on a hunt of her own - for whoever's in charge - and with very good reason.

When Leehee takes her turn to drive the headlights start working.

Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, they meet a man called Kneller who does show some sort of impetus - to entertain - and this draws its itinerant crowd. But then, in search of Kneller's cat, they discover an extravagant, plush mansion bathed in sunshine, with a swimming pool. There, even larger crowds have gathered, permanently round a pied-piper-like figure and self-proclaimed Messiah. But in a world in which no one else feels the need to repeat their suicide, why does this bloke want to give it a second ceremonial go?

You may be familiar with Etgar Keret now from 'The Seven Good Years' and 'Jellyfish'. Connoisseurs of comics are more likely to have relished Asaf Hanuka's solo explosions of fierce creativity and wit-ridden lateral thinking within THE REALIST and THE REALIST: PLUG AND PLAY as well as his work with Tomer Hanuka on THE DIVINE. If so, you will take the most enormous delight in seeing that most accomplished of comicbook creators evolving as a young artist on the pages right in front of you, for this work originally appeared in the periodical BI-POLAR some 15 years ago prior to reappearing in a collection in 2006.

Compare the first chapter with the third, then the fourth: it's illuminating! The lines become cleaner, the light brighter, no longer bogged down by extraneous, haggard texture. The colours become lambent thanks to Dan Jackson (the original printings were black and white) and the space opens up, figures better framed in their environment. Or maybe everyone's having more fun!

It's a privilege to witness this sort of personal evolution, and artists new to this medium should take note: never refrain from publishing until you believe you have achieved perfection, because you - in your own mind - never will; also, never go back and waste time on fixing too much earlier material which you could otherwise employ to create your next work. Martin Wagner did precisely that on his anthropomorphic HEPCATS, and we have never heard from him since.

The logic of this particular afterlife isn't watertight (I've no idea why condoms might be deployed when you're already dead, no one seems to become pregnant or suffer from disease; then Kurt Cobain makes a cameo appearance, face intact) but, jeepers, this is an afterlife, so it's all up for grabs, and there's almost a perverse pleasure in mulling over what Etgar Keret has come up with and wondering what you might substitute instead. What matters is this: does Keret come up with ideas that make you think, and does his world serve its specific story?

It does.

Thought For Day / Review Addendum

You can probably stop reading now.

We often hear of the "afterlife" as some carrot dangled before us - with its attendant, punitive stick habitually waiting in the sermonic wings - in order to make us behave ourselves better on this mortal coil. Not just in authoritarian religions organised to control us through brainwashing, but also in the infinitely more liberating Buddhist teachings too.

For, yes, you will be reincarnated so watch what you do, otherwise options include returning as cat, bat, rat, stoat or snail, or even another human being.

Heaven forfend that we should love, comfort, enable and empower each other because it's A Good Thing To Do, which will make us all quantifiably happier ourselves right here, right now, along with those whom we've helped.

Buddhists, I'm curious: can you be reincarnated backwards in time? Could I be reincarnated as a medieval monk? Related: has any enlightened Buddhist found themselves in possession of memories from the future rather than a past life? I ask, because what happens when someone like Trump pushes the big red button and there are no more human beings to look forward to in our abruptly curtailed timeline?

This 'Thought For Today' was presented by Stephen L. Holland. Now make yourself a hot mug of Horlicks and pop off to bed! We'll see you in the morning.

Sweet dreams!

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