A review of
The Ministry of Special Cases
by Nathan Englander
Nathan Englander may be the only writer on Amazon whose fans claim he was recommended by God (with the possible exceptions of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Muhammad). Englander’s debut short story collection, 1999’s For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, made him the messiah of Jewish fiction by simultaneously updating and preserving old-country questions of faith. The Ministry of Special Cases, his first novel, should make believers of whatever skeptics remain.
Set in Buenos Aires in the ’70s, The Ministry of Special Cases follows the hapless Kaddish Poznan. As the only child of the town’s Jewish brothel willing to admit his unsavory provenance, Kaddish gets paid by the other hijos de puta to remove their surnames from the official Jewish cemetery for pimps and whores. Along with his wife, Lillian, he spends most of his time bickering with their nineteen-year-old son, Pato, a left-leaning university student. He’s so involved in his two roles—attempting to maintain his authority by day and erasing the community’s history by night—that he doesn’t notice when his government begins to undertake the same dual task.
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