The Ministry of Special Cases eBook ´ The Ministry

The Ministry of Special Cases I m really smiling, I finished this book HUGELY satisfied and very pleasantly surprised, I have never read anything by this author but I like edgy and brutal and I like Jewish humour and I salute real people trying to make good in the face of bad days Its life I picked up the book at a garage sale and the very same evening found myself completely immersed and happily page turning, there really isn t a word out of place, the story is brutal but it pulls you in, the style is exquisite and the di I m really smiling, I finished this book HUGELY satisfied and very pleasantly surprised, I have never read anything by this author but I like edgy and brutal and I like Jewish humour and I salute real people trying to make good in the face of bad days Its life I picked up the book at a garage sale and the very same evening found myself completely immersed and happily page turning, there really isn t a word out of place, the story is brutal but it pulls you in, the style is exquisite and the dialogue is grade A, seriously brilliant Like Chabon s The Yiddish Policemen s Union, this is the tale of hard boiled Jewish protagonist trying to make sense of a world that is rapidly deteriorating around him But while Chabon went for affect and genre mimicry, Englander goes for asoulful approach the results are bothsober andsatisfying Yet, Englander s book is far from perfect There s not a whole lot going on during a long central act, and uninterrupted anguish can be as numbing as riveting For a book in which Like Chabon s The Yiddish Policemen s Union, this is the tale of hard boiled Jewish protagonist trying to make sense of a world that is rapidly deteriorating around him But while Chabon went for affect and genre mimicry, Englander goes for asoulful approach the results are bothsober andsatisfying Yet, Englander s book is far from perfect There s not a whole lot going on during a long central act, and uninterrupted anguish can be as numbing as riveting For a book in which time and place are so important Buenos Aires, 1978, at the height of the junta s murderous campaign against its own citizens the city itself remains strangely opaque It s a setting, but not a living, breathing place At his best, Englander conveys the horror of the period with tremendous power and respect, eschewing sensationalism for grim restraint A short, stand alone chapter on a young girl who is one of the many victims of the government s atrocities is the book s high point, as Englander delivers a book length narrative in a mere three pages that proves twice as effective as his longer work This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here I have been interested in the disappeared Los Desaparecidos of Argentina since I visited that country in the mid 90ies several times and saw the mothers marching in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada pink house, president s residence and seat of government That s what drew me to this book.The setting is Buenos Aires in 1976 The main characters are Kaddish Poznan and his wife, Lillian They are not only Jewish, but Kaddish is literally a hijo de puta son of a whore and his I have been interested in the disappeared Los Desaparecidos of Argentina since I visited that country in the mid 90ies several times and saw the mothers marching in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada pink house, president s residence and seat of government That s what drew me to this book.The setting is Buenos Aires in 1976 The main characters are Kaddish Poznan and his wife, Lillian They are not only Jewish, but Kaddish is literally a hijo de puta son of a whore and his job is defacing gravestones in the Jewish cemetery for whores and pimps for their descendents who want to erase their past, free their identity from the stain of their ancestors And erasing the past and transforming identity are major themes in the novel Lillian is aconventional Jew, belonging to the respectable Jewish congregation She works for an insurance agent, actually the main support of the family Kaddish and Lillian have a son, Pato, who s a university student Kaddish and Pato battle constantly On the day that Pato is arrested, Kaddish in his fury tells his son he wishes he d never been born.Kaddish and Lillian are both devastated at the arrest of their son, especially as they realize no official of the government will admit that Pato is even in custody or in fact ever existed They handle their grief and frustration so entirely differently that the conflict between them deepens Lillian assumes there are government channels one has to go through to get information She soon knows every police station in the city intimately and sits every day at the Ministry of Special Cases hoping for a hearing Kaddish s strategy is less straightforward In one of thehilarious in a book that s basically painfully tragic incidents of the book, before his son disappears, Kaddish is owed money by a plastic surgeon whose family graves he has disappeared The doctor convinces him to accept payment in kind and Kaddish negotiates nose jobs for himself, Lillian and Pato Pato refuses not wanting to change his identity Kaddish volunteers to go first and gets a first rate job Lillian, whom he was trying to protect by going first, gets an intern and her new nose falls off and has to be redone which Kaddish manages to badger the doctor into doing Changing the nose, especially for a Jew, is tantamount to changing identity Lillian, who is now beautiful, is devastated when a policeman to whom she shows a picture of her son, says it can t be her son with that big nose.A Kaddish is a prayer in the Jewish liturgy and the term is especially associated with a prayer of mourning Both the history of Argentina of this period and Kaddish s name warn the reader that Pato will never be found alive Students and intellectuals were targeted by the regime and most often disappeared Kaddish eventually encounters a navigator who, full of guilt in his role, tells him how the regime disposes of the disappeared, pushing them out of airplanes into the river delta That convinces Kaddish that Pato is dead, but when he goes to the rabbi to arrange a funeral, it seems that Jewish practice doesn t allow that without a body Lillian throws him out because he won t keep the faith that Pato is alive and coming back She has met a priest roaming the Ministry of Special Cases who tells her that a great amount of money can buy information about the disappeared and sometimes even a release Pato, not believing in her solution but realizing he can t live her lie and can t live without her goes back to the plastic surgeon who advises him to kidnap someone himself and demand a ransome That Kaddish s conscience cannot tolerate but he can ply his trade and steal the bones of a prominent family from the famous Recoleta cemetery and hold those for ransome This novel was not entirely successful The marriage of Jewish tradition and Argentinean history of the 1970ies just doesn t work The saga of a disappeared son is too painful to be contemplated, and Englander doesn t succeed completely moving the reader from the literal events to the larger concepts he seems to be trying for There is no ending to Pato s story the mothers still march in the Plaza de Mayo which practice is not, by the way, featured in the novel as the reader knows neither he nor his body will be found and that tragedy trumps all the richness and the humor of Kaddish and Lillian s story This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here Nathan Enlgander s account of a family ensnared in their own roots and the aftermath of a coup in unstable 70s Buenos Aires the dirty war seems undecided about the story it wants to tell In character and early plotting, Englander s tone is light and amusing, his plotting quirky and occassionally implausible Through the headstone alterations and dubious rhinoplasties, though, the bleak historical realities of the era disappeared families and political terror gradually seep up to engul Nathan Enlgander s account of a family ensnared in their own roots and the aftermath of a coup in unstable 70s Buenos Aires the dirty war seems undecided about the story it wants to tell In character and early plotting, Englander s tone is light and amusing, his plotting quirky and occassionally implausible Through the headstone alterations and dubious rhinoplasties, though, the bleak historical realities of the era disappeared families and political terror gradually seep up to engulf the story The horrifying truths that emerge are suitably horrifying, and lend the tale much of its meaning and weight, but by the time they arrive mark such an about face in tone that they re almost hard to take in I suppose this was partly intentional, and that Englander wanted to make them bite all theharshly for being unexpected, but instead the two sides of the story are left at odds, the lighter undermining the serious and robbing the characters of the full pathos their tales deserve This is not to say that absurdity and deadly realism cannot coexist as in some possitively Kafka esque bureaucracy sequences , but that juggling them takes a defter touch than the novel is usually able to summon My rating didn t like it doesn t mean I think this is not a well written, perhaps even a brilliant, book I just couldn t take it The combination of Jewish humor style and the horror of the Peron regime in Argentina was simply too much for me The books is about a hundred kinds of disappearances It begins with disappearing the names of the disreputable Jews in an Argentinian cemetery This is Kaddish s job He is a prostitute s son and works chipping away at the names and therefore family My rating didn t like it doesn t mean I think this is not a well written, perhaps even a brilliant, book I just couldn t take it The combination of Jewish humor style and the horror of the Peron regime in Argentina was simply too much for me The books is about a hundred kinds of disappearances It begins with disappearing the names of the disreputable Jews in an Argentinian cemetery This is Kaddish s job He is a prostitute s son and works chipping away at the names and therefore family reputations in the wrong side of the cemetery.What really made it impossible for me to read this book were the arguments between Kaddish and his son, the college educated, rock afficionado, stoner Pato The arguments were so raw and awful and believable I felt sick every time I read another scene between these two And then, they re over Because Pato has been disappeared And still the humor continues The ridiculous bureaucracy, the awful interactions I just couldn t bear it Something about the juxtaposition of these two genres Jewish humor and political atrocity was too hard for me So my rating of the book doesn t mean I don t think it s perhaps a valuable book I just know I can t read it cover to cover.But I went back to it I finished in small doses And the writing IS brilliant Just so much corruption and longing and torture all told in these beautifully wrought, darkly humorous sentences I admire Englander enormously, and I don t want to live in or visit his worlds As we say, the discipline of the book club kept me going As I just finished this, it may take me a while to process my exact thoughts There isn t a lot of florid description here of Argentina in the 70s or the Jewish community of Buenos Aires at that time, and yet the author still managed to make both these seem very present, despite never being wholly unveiled at any one point.The protagonist is a pariah, neither at home in his community nor outside of it, and he is deeply troubled and morally defiant about it A similar struggle marks theinti As I just finished this, it may take me a while to process my exact thoughts There isn t a lot of florid description here of Argentina in the 70s or the Jewish community of Buenos Aires at that time, and yet the author still managed to make both these seem very present, despite never being wholly unveiled at any one point.The protagonist is a pariah, neither at home in his community nor outside of it, and he is deeply troubled and morally defiant about it A similar struggle marks theintimate relationship with his son it s angry and intense, askew and connected, painful and turbulent, but it has a core of real though misexpressed love and familial longing I m struck by the author s ability to convey this complex relationship so well even at times when it s not explicitly being discussed For the first time in a while, I was utterly emotionally involved the character s experiences A passage where Lillian disintegrates figuratively and literally will haunt me for a long time It s dark, dark comedy and terrifying at the same time.To make odious comparisons, this book is like Malamud s The Assistant coupled with Kafka Deep, complicated emotions at times of high desperation and tragicomic mania greeted by an opaque, polite, insidious, and very sinister system Since I enjoyed Englander s first short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges his works have great titles , I decided to try his novel before reading his next collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Stories Either the style of this novel is different from his stories I read some of which I do remember though it s been awhile , or his style is not conducive to a novel, because I m not interested in reading beyond the ninety something pages I did read, thoug Since I enjoyed Englander s first short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges his works have great titles , I decided to try his novel before reading his next collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Stories Either the style of this novel is different from his stories I read some of which I do remember though it s been awhile , or his style is not conducive to a novel, because I m not interested in reading beyond the ninety something pages I did read, though I thought the material held promise.Take this review with a grain of salt, though, for what I found boring, you might find comic I didnt think I would like this book as much as I did it got so much press before it came out that I thought it was too good to be true But, it ended up being a really compelling story about a jewish family in Argentina during the dirty war Their son gets disappeared and they have no one to turn to b c of their status in society b c of their past even the jewish community wont help them There is not a ton of dialogue, which really creates the mood that everything is being watched and noth I didnt think I would like this book as much as I did it got so much press before it came out that I thought it was too good to be true But, it ended up being a really compelling story about a jewish family in Argentina during the dirty war Their son gets disappeared and they have no one to turn to b c of their status in society b c of their past even the jewish community wont help them There is not a ton of dialogue, which really creates the mood that everything is being watched and nothing you say could make any difference anyways It created that paranoid feeling really well I m going to go back and read this guy s short stories now Didn t really care for the book writing style The redeeming value was what was going on in Argentina in the 1970s, with the government turning against its own people and causing them to disappear Picked this up as a used CD to listen while I drive Wouldn t recommend. 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 dearThe long awaited novel from Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges Englander s wondrous and much heralded collection of stories won thePen Malamud Award and was translated into 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


About the Author: Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander is a Jewish American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970 He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A Knopf, Inc., in 1999 The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important writer of fiction.Learnon Facebook.


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