16 May 2008

Book Review

I'd read a few of Englander's stories before, and each one had been about antisemitism. What was most interesting about the small selection of those stories was the way the characters somehow embodied generations of struggle. A quick example is the group of Jewish boys in "How We Avenged the Blums." I was so impressed I decided I had to read his novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, which is about a family struggling through Argentina's Dirty War. I don't know much about antisemitism and nothing about the Dirty War (except what I learned in this book), but I'm a sucker for generational stories. Practically every character, no matter how large or small a role they play, is given a full family history in this book.

I wasn't sure about this at first. I wasn't overly impressed with the writing itself; there didn't seem to be any poetry in the prose, if that makes sense, but getting deeper into the story I realized any rhythm or lyricism in the words would seem inappropriate to this type of story. I ended up swallowed by the story. For awhile I wondered how the novel would end, and that kept me reading, until I realized there was only one way it could end. Then that kept me reading. It's at that point Englander's prose takes over. I felt pulled along, compelled to finish, if for no other reason than to witness the emotion of the novel's main characters, Lillian and Kaddish Poznan. To say I identified with the characters would be wrong, because I've never been a Jewish person in the middle of an unsafe military state. That being said, Englander portrays them so well that I seemed to feel what they felt; I hoped when they did, had faith when they did, and lost both when they did as well. What's amazing is how the story makes the reader have hope and lose it all simultaneously. I finished it on a train ride/walk home from work, and I think I was almost hit by a car because this novel creates its own world, surrounds you with it, and makes it seem as if nothing else exists but the words on the page.

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