Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Reviews of The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

The Ministry of Special Cases

A Novel

by Nathan Englander

The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander X
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence--and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear.

The long-awaited novel from Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Englander’s wondrous and much-heralded collection of stories won the 2000 Pen/Malamud Award and was translated into more than a dozen languages.

From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence--and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, the refuge of last resort.

Nathan Englander’s first novel is a timeless story of fathers and sons. In a world turned upside down, where the past and the future, the nature of truth itself, all take shape according to a corrupt government’s whims, one man--one spectacularly hopeless man--fights to overcome his history and his name, and, if for only once in his life, to put things right. Here again are all the marvelous qualities for which Englander’s first book was immediately beloved: his exuberant wit and invention, his cosmic sense of the absurd, his genius for balancing joyfulness and despair. Through the devastation of a single family, Englander captures, indelibly, the grief of a nation. The Ministry of Special Cases, like Englander’s stories before it, is a celebration of our humanity, in all its weakness, and--despite that--hope.

Chapter One

Jews bury themselves the way they live, crowded together, encroaching on one another's space. The headstones were packed tight, the bodies underneath elbow to elbow and head to toe. Kaddish led Pato through uneven rows over uneven ground on the Benevolent Self side. He cupped his hand over the eye of the flashlight to smother the light. His fingers glowed orange, red in between, as he ran his fist along the face of a stone.

They were searching for Hezzi Two-Blades' grave, and finding it didn't take long. His plot rose up sharply. His marker tipped back. It looked to Kaddish as if the old man had tried to claw his way free. It also looked like Two-Blades' daughter had only to wait another winter and she wouldn't have needed to hire Kaddish Poznan at all.

Marble, Kaddish had discovered, is chiseled into not for its strength but for its softness. As with the rest of the marble in the graveyard of the Society of the Benevolent Self, Hezzi's marker was pocked and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
About This Book

Kaddish Poznan grew up as an hijo de puta among the Jewish pimps, whores, and gangsters of Buenos Aires who called themselves the Society of the Benevolent Self. His mother was a prostitute, his father unknown, and to make a living he chisels the names off tombstones in the cemetery of the Benevolent Self for respectable Jews who no longer wish to be associated with their unsavory forebears. Although Kaddish likes to have his son, Pato, work with him, Pato wants nothing to do with his father’s business. As a university student, his studies have alienated him from his uneducated, ne’er-do-well father.

The story takes place in 1976 at the beginning of Argentina’s Dirty War, when General Jorge Videla’...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review (583 words)

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Media Reviews

Esquire - Tyler Cabot
All the while, Englander's prose moves along with a tempered ferocity -- simple yet deceptively incisive.

Time Out New York -Kate Lowenstein
Englander’s novel has hints of magical realism (we find the characters in a variety of absurd situations, such as their willing receipt of unnecessary nose jobs from a broke surgeon who owes Kaddish money), but most of the story is so convincingly told that it’s hard to imagine that Englander hasn’t weathered political persecution himself. Despite its grim plot, the book is a pleasure to read. 4 out of 6.

Booklist - Brad Hooper
Starred Review. The bulk of this overwhelming novel, then, is Pozman's and his wife's attempt to locate their missing son. Four p' s best describe this work: poignant, powerful, political, and yet personal.

Kirkus Reviews
Englander's story collection promised a brilliant future, and that promise is here fulfilled beyond all expectations.

Publisher's Weekly
Signature review. Englander writes with increasing power and authority in the second half of his book; he probes deeper and deeper, looking at what absence means, reading the shadow letters on history's curtain.

Reader Reviews

Julie Zelman

Get it for your book club!
Like his earlier short story collection, this will draw you deep inside a world that is both new and familiar. I have recommended this book to many people, and each came away saying "Wow". It reminds me of "Life of Pi", not in its themes or ...   Read More
Kim

2007 Favorite Book for a reason!
The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander, tells the story of a Jewish family caught up in the political corruption and upheaval of mid-70's Argentina. As one of BookBrowse's Best Books of 2007, it has all the things you'd expect from high...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Argentina: The Jewish community and the "Dirty War"

Jews in Argentina
After being expelled from Spain in 1492, a number of Jews settled in Argentina where they assimilated into the general population, so by the mid 1800s there were few overt Jews in Argentina. When Argentina gained its independence from Spain in 1810, the first president officially abolished the Inquisition and encouraged freedom of immigration and respect for human rights. Over the following decades Jewish immigrants began to arrive from Europe, especially France. In the late 19th century, a third wave of Jewish immigrants arrived, primarily fleeing poverty and pogroms in Russian and Eastern Europe. By 1920 there were about 150,000 Jews in Argentina.

Anti-Semitism in Argentina had been infrequent until World War I, but ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Ministry of Special Cases, try these:

We have 14 read-alikes for The Ministry of Special Cases, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Nathan Englander
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Sicilian Inheritance
    The Sicilian Inheritance
    by Jo Piazza
    Sara Marsala is going through a rough patch, to say the least. In the process of divorcing from her ...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Eaters
    The Light Eaters
    by Zoë Schlanger
    The human race is completely dependent on plants. Many people, however, give little thought to ...
  • Book Jacket: Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    by J Drew Lanham
    As a recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and a Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master ...
  • Book Jacket: Glorious Exploits
    Glorious Exploits
    by Ferdia Lennon
    Lampo and Gelon are two unemployed potters in their thirties whose lives are spent between their ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Long After We Are Gone
by Terah Shelton Harris
After their father's death, four siblings rally to save their family home in this gripping and hopeful tale.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    This Strange Eventful History
    by Claire Messud

    An immersive, masterful story of a family born on the wrong side of history.

  • Book Jacket

    The Stolen Child
    by Ann Hood

    An unlikely duo ventures through France and Italy to solve the mystery of a child’s fate.

Win This Book
Win Only the Brave

Only the Brave by Danielle Steel

A powerful, sweeping historical novel about a courageous woman in World War II Germany.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F T a T

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.