Englander's relatively short but
immensely powerful first novel is set in 1976 at the
start of the Dirty War, a 7-year campaign by the
Argentine military government against suspected
subversives. Kaddish (named for
the Jewish prayer of mourning) always has a new scheme for making money. He
earns his latest erratic source of income by
breaking into a walled off cemetery at dead of night
in order to chisel the names of Jewish whores and
pimps off their gravestones, so that their respectable second
generation children can erase their own pasts.
This is the same past that Kaddish, the son of an
immigrant whore, proudly embraces, which
makes him an effective untouchable to the Jewish
community as a whole. Meanwhile, his wife, stoical and
reliable Lillian, brings home a paycheck from the
insurance agency where she's busily employed
insuring the lives of the newly rich higher-ups in
the military regime.
When their naively idealistic, but probably politically harmless son, Pato, is taken from their own home, the parents experience a defacement as efficient as Kaddish's chisel - Pato has simply ceased to exist.
The Ministry of Special Cases is a powerful and poignant novel that probes the depths of identity and loss, and how societies and individuals contribute to their own undoing. To tell you any more would be to tell you too much. Be cautious reading other reviews of The Ministry of Special Cases because many give away too much of the plot; and, however tempting it might be, don't skip ahead to see the outcome. Instead, step into the unknown alongside the comically-tragic Kaddish and his wife as they helplessly attempt to navigate the terrifying Kafkaesque world of 1970s Buenos Aires, in which their son has been "disappeared", his very existence, past or present, denied by the military regime.
Nathan Englander was brought up as an
Orthodox Jew, educated at a yeshiva in suburban Long
Island, and now lives in New York. His favorite
reading are Russian novelists such as Gogol,
Dostoevsky and Chekhov; also Kafka and Camus. It
took him eight years to write The Ministry of
Special Cases following the publication of his
bestselling short stories,
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, which he
wrote while living in Israel.
When asked to what extent religion influences his writing he replies, "I don't think I could introduce myself to a stranger, or even see my oldest friend, and make it ten seconds without saying that I'm Jewish, or referencing it in some way. That's me. But I don't consider myself a Jewish writer, and I definitely do not look at [The Ministry of Special Cases] as Jewish .... it is the very least equally as much about being Argentine as it is about being Jewish is anyone, anywhere, ever going to call me an Argentine writer?" Read more from this interview.
Interesting Link: Essay: Nathan Englander returns to Buenos Aires, the place he's been imagining for a decade.
This review was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
Discover your next great read here
Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.
Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!
Solve this clue:
and be entered to win..
Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.
Your guide toexceptional books
BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.