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THe husband, Kaddish, is "un hijo de puta" shunned by the more respectable jews of Buenos Aires who hire him to deface the gravestones of their scorned ancestors ( apparently during the 1920's there was a thriving jewish trade in prostitution and crime in Buenos Aires). The wife, Lillian, comes from a more respectable jewish family who begged her not to marry Kaddish but his dreams of success and glory won her over;only to result in dissappointment and bitterness when their smart and lovely 19 yr old son is abducted by the dark forces of the junta. They fall into a Kafkaesque spiral, a maze and labyrinth of officials who stonewall their attempts to find their son Pato.
This is Englander's second book. His first a short story collection, For The Relief of Unbearable Urges, which was also a treasure of quirky tales all with jewish themes...an orthodox wigmaker, a failed poet caught up in a Stalinesque purge and a gentile who decides to find himself in the jewish religion.
Englander is a special talent. What do others think?
I was amazed at Englander's writing. It seemed that there was not one word out of place. I'd love to get hold of his book of short stories and give those a try. He is quite a talent. I sure do agree.
When I lived in Israel during the 1970's, I made friends with quite a few young people from South America. I remember how liberal and anti-government they were. I have always felt quite close especially to the Argentinians I met there. It was for that reason that I picked up this novel in the first place. I was always aware of the "disappeared" in South America but never thought about to where they disappeared. I also knew that Jews were targets of the South American governments but never truly knew the extent of the situation. Although The Ministry of Special Cases was only a novel, I feel it had essential truths to share. It did lead me to Wikipedia to supplement the story I was reading with some facts about the time and place of the story's setting.
Other interesting Argentine Jewish writers are Alberto Gerchunoff (who was an influence on Borges), Ricardo Feierstein, and Edgardo Cozarinsky. There is also a wonderful anthology entitled The Silver Candelabra.
Back to Englander I am pleased you , too, thought the book was fantastic. I hope we are spreading the word.
Unfortunately I never got to visit South America at all in my former traveling days although I have family from Santiago Chile (Jewish) and currently have one cousin who lives with his wife and triplet children in Sao Paolo, Brazil. When I was in Mexico (I stayed in Hotel Polanco - don't know why that name still stands out) many years ago, I thought it was a riot to be among the Jewish population there. It seemed as it were Potomac, Maryland, transplanted to another place on earth except for the fact that the population spoke Spanish and not English. Of course, the contrast between the life style of these Jews and the poverty of the Mexican peasants is another story...
I *am* trying to spread the word! I posted my review of this book here on LT and on Amazon as soon as I finished reading it.
I'm going to put the list of writers you recommended on my wishlist right now! Thank you so much.
I got to interview him once by phone for an article I was writing for a Jewish newspaper in New Jersey. He was very friendly and interesting to talk to, especially impressive since I was some unknown writer doing a piece for a tiny periodical he'd never heard of.
Chu- funny you should mention Polanco- a few years ago we were in Mexico City and stopped at a synagogue in Polanco- it was elegant and the rabbi was Argentine. A great latin jewish resource is the writer Ilan Stavans- a mexican jew- who heads up a Jewish Latin American Studies Program at Amhearst College- he has his own website.
Even though I am an Ashkenazi I have developed a very strong interest in the Jewish experience in latin America.
It was living in Israel that got me interested both in Sephardic Jews as well as Ashkenazic Jews from South America.