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The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories Paperback – September 1, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Etgar Keret's The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories stings and thrills with fierce fables of modern life. Set in landscapes ranging from "this armpit town outside Austin, Texas" to "this village in Uzbekistan that was built right smack at the mouth of Hell," these stories lay their plots' central tensions out plainly: "Dad wouldn't buy me a Bart Simpson doll," one begins. Then they take off like little roller coasters, careening through the pathos of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, the clowning of David Sedaris's Barrel Fever, the in-your-face violence of Quentin Tarantino, and the bewildered alienation of Franz Kafka. But readers need not know any of Keret's sources to enjoy his stories fully. The Israeli writer's aphorisms leap off the page and lodge themselves in the mind: "There are two kinds of people, those who like to sleep next to the wall, and those who like to sleep next to the people who push them off the bed." Keret's vernacular prose is fun to read, and his vision of the world is weirdly comforting. Happiness never really flourishes, but small hopes and graces abound. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this collection of antic tales, Israeli writer Keret chronicles the bitter ironies that determine his characters' daily lives. Set in contemporary Israel, Keret's brief stories most are three to five pages long juxtapose a casual realism with regular flashes of unabashed absurdity, portraying characters on the brink of adulthood forced to confront life's chaotic forces death, justice, love, betrayal for the first time. Keret attempts to render often sad or tragic events with a light touch, and his plots lend a fantastical, whimsical air to simple, everyday reality: a bus driver is obsessed with keeping his schedule, a stewardess falls in love with a passenger, a man is befriended by an angel in disguise, a woman runs a convenience store at the gate to hell. The most successful stories capitalize on their brevity, their irony sharpening as the plot turns on a dime. "Cocked and Locked," for instance, portrays an Israeli and an Arab soldier in a desert standoff; a clever switch of identity reveals that the enemies we create are often born inside ourselves. But Keret's characters can be carelessly drawn, their shifts in sentiment seeming either flip or predictable, as in the story "Good Intentions," which focuses on a coldhearted killer's decision not to murder a good man. Similarly, the longest story, "Kneller's Happy Campers," which follows a young man on a quest for love in the afterlife, seems disjointed and bland after the charms of its conceit wear off. Without strong individuals, the stories here lose critical mass and remain too disparate to command attention as a collection.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Toby Press (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592641059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592641055
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although wildly popular in his native Israel, this collection is the first of Keret's work to be published in the US. Two-thirds of the small book is given over to 22 equally small short stories, all ranging from 5-8 pages or so. These stories are difficult to characterize, although they generally feature alienated males (often children or teenagers), and the writing is universally deft and satirically witty with an underlying tone of irony and sorrow-occasionally drifting into unreality. Any description of them would not do them justice at all. I don't read enough American writers to think up a good comparison, although I would say Kerst shares some of Jonathan Lethem and Mark Jude Porier's territory. However, what the stories more similar to is some of the short fiction that came out of Scotland in the early to mid-'90s from people like Gordon Legge, Duncan McLean, and James Kelman, who also write very brief stories. Perhaps most of all, the book bears comparison to the absurdist fables of another Scot, Magnus Mills (All Quiet on the Orient Express, The Restraint of Beasts, Three To See The King). The novella which occupies the final third of the book, "Kneller's Happy Campers", about the afterlife of those who commit suicide, is especially redolent of Mills' odd and affecting mix of black humor and fantasy. The collection is drawn and translated from Keret's bestselling collections in Israel, and one can only hope that more makes it into English and across the shores.
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Format: Hardcover
Etgar Keret takes the term "short story" very literally. The majority of the stories don't exceed four pages. Keret doesn't engage in excessive prose, he doesn't devote much energy to setting a scene. He punches you on the nose with a story, then runs away. In the hands of any other author, this technique could be problematic: It doesn't allow the reader to truly know or care about his characters, and the only atmosphere present is the brevity of Keret's style. But it works because he is a very skilled storyteller, more concerned with walloping the reader over the head with a message and a purpose than taking the time to pull you into another world. Each story is a fable, a fairy tale. The short length and lack of detail can prove to be misleading--these are very complicated, well-thought out stories. They don't take long to read, but it does require time and brain-power to comprehend them.
A few stories fall flat. "Uterus," for instance. Sometimes I got the impression that something was lost in translation. But "The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God: & Other Stories" is a very satisfying collection, meaty in ideas if not physical heft.
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By M. Reyero on February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this book in its Spanish translation before reading the English one -- they each read a bit differently but Keret's literary brilliance comes through in either: a forceful plunge into humanity's flaws.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of my favorite books/authors! Each and every story grabs you by the seat of your pants/skirt and takes you on an ever unexpected journey. Etgar Keret is my author idol! If I could write even half as good as him, I'd be a best-seller!
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Format: Paperback
The short stories are typical Keret, with distilled power and irony. I thought the book was good, but it was a bit darker than his Nimrod Flipout, which had a few more hopeful stories (which I really enjoyed).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I might be going a little too far by calling this the best book I've read all year, but while the high of this book still lingers with me that's what I'm calling it. I'll admit the only reason I bought this book was to read "Kneller's Happy Campers" because it was adapted into the film Wristcutters - A Love Story, but "Knellers" turned out to be the last story in the collection and it just didn't feel right to ignore the other stories.

Etgar Keret doesn't disappoint. His style might be a little over the top for the average reader, but his imagination is just the sort of world I'd love to live in. From a town that houses the gateway to hell to a man who finds Heaven within a pipe, the book is filled with slice-of-life stories of average-joe characters who just happen to reside within the surreal.

I should warn that if you're not into magical realism, bizarro fiction, or surrealism, then you should stray away from this collection. However, if you're seeking an exit from the monotony of your choice genre, this book might just be what you're looking for.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no way to know whether you will like this book or not, because it's totally fresh and different from any other writer out there (to my knowledge; if I'm missing something please do let me know). This is a voice like nothing I've ever read, with incredible imagination and depth. A window into modern Israeli culture as well as some of the deepest and most raw human emotions, the kind you don't access in the course of normal life. And it was liberating - finally, a vision of the place our present lives occupy in the great big eternity or whatever this thing might be that's tangible and all the more meaningful for not being swept aside for a set of answers. Keret's is an anchorless irreverance; instead of bashing its head against some existing philosophy, it just lets itself unfold. Reading him was a completely new and revelationary experience for me and I would recommend him to anyone who can sweep aside everything they might have heard or read - including this review - and just read him with wide open eyes.
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