[Short Story] “Cocked and Locked” by Etgar Keret

Right now I’m taking a class on the current Israeli-Arab conflict and the history behind that conflict by studying cultural texts.  It’s one of those classes you really enjoy taking in college because you’re given the chance to dive into a lot of interesting readings.  In fact, I really enjoy reading texts from other cultures as much as I like watching foreign films–there’s a magic to them that you just don’t see often in the U.S. anymore, or at least, that’s how I feel.

This week we were assigned to several readings, two of them being short stories.  The first of the two stories was from a collection written by Etgar Keret called The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God and Other Stories.  When I did some research about Keret online, it turns out he typically writes very short stories; the two in particular I read for this course were roughly 4-5 pages long.

The first story I read, “Cocked and Locked,” made more sense to me than the second, which was called “Gaza Blues.”  I think part of the problem, I am rather ashamed to say, is my lack of knowledge about the history and current state of Middle Eastern conflicts.  I only know as much as I’ve been taught in general history courses, discussions with my friends and family, and what I see in the news.  However, I realize that there is much more that I can learn, which was exactly my motivation for taking this course in studying cultural texts of the Israeli-Arab conflict.  My professor for this course is fantastic; his name is Yuval Benziman.  He teaches his class to look at things from as objective of a perspective as possible, and from the beginning I was impressed with how he truly does practice what he preaches.  He is very clear at letting us know when what he is saying is his personal opinion versus the academic or “objective” view.

This was a translated work, and being a Korean-American that understands the Korean language, and having seen some of our movies and texts translated into English, I can say I’m not sure how accurate the translation is or whether or not some of the word choice is grossly exaggerated in this short story, since I would be unable to read the original work due to lack of knowledge of that language.

That being said, it was a slight shock when reading this the first time; there was plenty of cursing and profanity, and quite honestly I was awed by it.  One could argue that I’m giving it too much credit, but I think it was actually tastefully done, given that I got the message right.

If anyone else has read this piece and could provide further insight on it, perhaps even pointing out anything key that I missed, I would really appreciate the discussion.  Feel more than free to comment on this entry; I look forward to it.

I am away from my room (and consequently, my bookshelf) at the moment, so I cannot say who else this work specifically reminds me of, but I will tell you this, I definitely felt that it echoed my sentiment about wars in general, no matter what conflict it is.

In this story, I believe the conflict is between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian.  The Palestinian constantly pesters, mocks, jeers at the Israeli soldier, and the soldier attempts to shoot at him out of frustration; however he is stopped by his superior.  His superior then tells him to basically be better than the Palestinian and to keep his cool.  However, the Israeli soldier later imitates the way the Palestinian is dressed, and goes in for the attack.  (So basically, he “sinks” to the other guy’s level in order to be able to fight with him properly, is what I think that was supposed to signify.)

Somehow after reading this I was reminded of two things.  In war, morals become muddled and things that used to make sense become senseless.  The idea of “good” vs. “evil” is arbitrary, because either side will argue that they are fighting for the greater good, and in that same vein both sides could genuinely believe that from the bottom of their hearts.  The second thing I was reminded of is I think sometimes people just forget what they’re fighting for.  They’ve just been conditioned to hate the opposing side “just because.”  While not true in all cases, I think this can be true for some long-standing conflicts that have lasted for a very prolonged period of time.

Though short, I think it made for a very interesting and introspective read.  I don’t think I can really give this piece a rating like I’ve been doing for my other reviews, but I think that I would definitely recommend this very short story for at least a one-time read, especially if you’re interested in the conflicts in the Middle East.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m open to any discussions about this piece, and would love to have any other insights.

Until next time.

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