A review of

The Ministry of Special Cases

by Nathan Englander

Central question: How true is anything that only one man believes?
Format: 339 pp., paperback; Size: 6 ½" x 10"; Price: $25.00; Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Editor: Jordan Pavlin; City in which the author decided to abandon his religious upbringing: Jerusalem; Number of high-profile graves robbed in novel: one; Number of high-profile graves robbed in Argentine history: one, belonging to Juan Peron; Representative passage: “‘Happiness is contained in the nose. Like a diamond, it only crystallizes under pressure. In so much space’—he took another swipe—‘happiness cannot form. This is why Jews, as a people, are dysthymics. In those ample noses happiness moves around like a firefly in a jar.’”

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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Izzy Grinspan

Izzy Grinspan lives in Brooklyn. She edits the features section of Jewcy.com, an online magazine about culture, politics, and religion.

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