Paragraph Review – The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories by Etgar Keret

“The son of the Head of the Mossad didn’t even know he was the son of the Head of the Mossad. He though his dad had an earthmoving business. And when his dad used to pull the snub-nosed Beretta out of his bottom drawer every morning and check the .38 caliber bullets one by one, he thought it was because he spent so much time working with Arabs from the West Bank. The son of the Head of the Mossad had long skinny legs and a funny name. They called him Oleg, after a friend of his dad’s who was killed in the Six Day War, and in the summertime, whenever you saw him in shorts, swaggering on those two skinny white stilts of his, you thought that he was about to topple over any second. And there was that name of his, Oleg. He seemed such an unlikely candidate for son of the Head of the Mossad that sometimes you couldn’t help asking yourself whether it wasn’t just another stunt that is father, the Head of the Mossad, had thought up to disguise his true identity.”

Wow.

That is exactly what came out of my mouth after reading this week’s paragraph for the Paragraph Review.

Wow.

I borrowed this book from our drummer. We were at band practice one night and he started talking about this book he was reading of fucked up and depressing short stories. I was immediately into it. Fucked up AND depressing? This is my comfort zone. He showed up next week with the book in hand. The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories, by Etgar Keret. The smiley guy blowing his cartoon brains out on the cover made me smile. Comfort zone.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be GodThe paragraph above is the opening of the story titled, not surprisingly, The Son of the Head of the Mossad. It does two key things for me: one, it makes me want to continue reading, and two, it brings humanity to an often demonized and distanced character. The former is what an opening paragraph should do. The latter is a complex and difficult feat.

By repeatedly using the title, “The Head of the Mossad,” along with the image of the vulnerable and oddball son, makes for a contrast I couldn’t help but respond to. The title distances the reader from the person behind it, gives them the easy out of not having to think about the human being involved. It is a familiar tactic– things that happen far away don’t affect us. They are sad, horrible, sometimes necessary, even, but still vague and easily forgotten when we are stopped at a traffic light and the guy in front of us takes ten seconds to notice the light has turned green. But Keret pulls us into check with the image of this gawky, scrawny boy. A kid who is just living his life in awkward ignorance.

And to boot, the kid has no idea about who his father really is. He is just Dad. He is a regular dude working a normal job, just in a scary place.

And the man behind the title, the man in charge of one of the most secret forces in the world, a badass no matter your politics, suddenly becomes one of the most vulnerable types of people on the planet- a parent. No one is more open to being hurt than a parent. The love you feel for children is unconditional and deeper than any other kind of love. At least that’s what we are supposed to believe, right?

So, this man, this, “Head of the Mossad,” can he really be capable of that, given his position? Or, do we just paint him as a calculating intelligence officer, even when his son hugs him with his coat-hanger arms before he heads off to work in the morning and tells him to be careful? That he loves him? That’s what Western media has shown us of men in this type of position, and the media is always right.

The final line of the paragraph indicates that the narrator just can’t bring himself or herself to trust the “dad” idea for the Head of the Mossad, either. Maybe Oleg is just a ruse; a trick conjured to hide behind the mask of “normal.”

But still, Oleg is his son. And title be damned, the man behind it is still human, right?

More questions come to mind. Who are the “they” that named his son Oleg? Who was the original Oleg? Are these people Mossad agents, or just more masks to hide behind?

Keret has set up a great opening, here. I can’t wait to finish this review and then the story.

Paragraph Review conclusion for the day? Take your Vitamin D3, be on time to the bus stop, and head to your nearest independent bookstore to get The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories. And the next time you hear a title on the news instead of a name, think of Oleg.

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