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January 6, 2023

Half-Baked Stories About My Dead Mom

Writer Etgar Keret tries to come up with the stories that capture his late mother, Orna Keret—but it’s hard, he says, because she’s like Maria in West Side Story and she’s also like Thanos from the Avengers. He ends up with a series of very short stories — most just a few paragraphs long — that give glimpses of different sides of her. These written stories are interspersed with off-the-cuff stories he tells host Ira Glass. 

Orna Keret in 1955, rehearsing a play. Courtesy Etgar Keret.

Note: The internet version of this episode contains un-beeped curse words. BEEPED VERSION.

Prologue

Ira talks to author Etgar Keret about his mother, Orna, and his mother’s stories. He tells a story about a dangerous encounter his mother had at the beginning of World War Two as an example. Etgar explains why writing about his mother has always been so difficult for him, and how it is that he was finally able to do it.

Most of Etgar's stories about his mom on this week's show were written for an exhibition about her called "Inside Out" at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It runs until March 19, 2023. Etgar emails a free short story to subscribers every week in his newsletter.

Story #1

Bedtime Story

Etgar’s mother tells a story about her father and her leaving the Jewish ghetto without their yellow stars in order to get bread. (3 minutes)

Story #2

Razor

Etgar asks his mother why she only ever strokes his face with the back of her hand. She explains that in the orphanage where she grew up, she used the front of her hand to hide a razor for protection. (2 minutes)

Conversation

Etgar tells Ira about his mother’s experience living through the Holocaust and why she didn’t like being defined by it. He goes on to tell a story about his mother as a child and the advice her father gave her. (5 minutes)

Story #3

Fabric

Etgar describes his mother in her element: running a basement fabric shop and giving customers blunt advice on their wardrobe choices. (2 minutes)

Story #4

Rain Day

Etgar and his wife encounter some confusion when a family tradition of his does not hold true for her or anyone else. (2 minutes)

Story #5

Never Forget a Smell

Etgar’s mother confronts his school bully and tells this bully something he’ll never forget. (10 minutes) 

Conversation

Ira points out Etgar’s mom is always the hero in these stories. Etgar explains why he sees her this way. (3 minutes)

Conversation

Etgar tells the story of how his parents met. (2 minutes)

Story #6

The Stuff

When Etgar becomes a vegetarian his mother concocts a clever way to get him protein, inventing a recipe for a meat substitute they call “the stuff.” Kids all over the neighborhood want to try it. (5 minutes)

Conversation

Etgar tells Ira about a time when Etgar’s mother asked him to do her a favor that he just had to refuse. (3 minutes)

Story #7

The First Angel You See

Etgar’s mother tells the story of losing her mother and baby brother in the war. (3 minutes)

Story #8

Good Day

When Etgar throws a fit at a restaurant, saying it’s the worst day of his life because they’re out of french fries, his mother points out all the reasons this is “a good day.” (3 minutes)