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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but grim tale of post-coup Argentina
Like the other reviewers, I had a strong emotional reaction to this book. It's very well written, and the subject matter (a Jewish couple's response to the "disappearing£ of their son) very powerful and well handled. The background of one of the main characters in Argentina's rejected Jewish community of pimps and prostitutes is a forgotten part of Jewish history, which...
Published on 30 April 2009 by Jezza

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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The grief obscured by the clever clever writing
At its heart, this book is a tragedy. The tragedy of two parents whose eldest son is "disappeared", and their attempts to find out where he went and to try to get him back. And what could be more tragic? Combine this with the social changes happening in Argentina at the time, as the junta takes over and life changes, people become scared, selfish and self concerned and...
Published on 29 Sep 2008 by Chris Widgery


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but grim tale of post-coup Argentina, 30 April 2009
By 
This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Paperback)
Like the other reviewers, I had a strong emotional reaction to this book. It's very well written, and the subject matter (a Jewish couple's response to the "disappearing£ of their son) very powerful and well handled. The background of one of the main characters in Argentina's rejected Jewish community of pimps and prostitutes is a forgotten part of Jewish history, which deserves to be better known.

As a middle-aged man with teenage sons, I like the way that the author handles the central character's coming to terms with the fact that he is not the hero of his own or anyone else's life; we all have to face this eventually, whether we buy a big motorbike or whatever.

One of my best books for years.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Low Comedy and Sharp Wit Lead to Laughter, Tears, Sadness, Hope, Desolation, and Absolution, 2 July 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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Seldom has a novel commanded so many of my emotions. My heart felt like a piano on whose strings a master musician was playing both polkas and dirges. But most of all, Mr. Englander kept surprising me. I usually read mysteries to enjoy fictional surprises, but The Ministry of Special Cases provided many more surprises than any mystery I've read in recent years.

When I began reading the book, I had to stop and start over. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It's almost as though Hamlet started with the grave digger's scene.

How can I summarize this book? I'm not sure I can do so accurately, but I'll hit some of the right notes of I call this book Don Quixote at The Trial. In the process, Mr. Englander unerringly portrays a society that's failing because each person only wants to look out for himself or herself.

You will find yourself in Argentina during the beginning of the "dirty war" when many young people disappeared. What would it like to be a parent of such a young person? That's what you will graphically experience by reading The Ministry of Special Cases.

Kaddish Poznan was conceived through an accident between his prostitute mother and a customer. The rabbi granted Kaddish such an unusual name in hopes it would protect him. As the book evolves, you'll see that the name has indeed shaped his character as well as his actions. Many of the "respectable" Jews in Argentina at the time had forbearers who also engaged in illicit and illegal activities, while sporting colorful names such as Hezzi Two-Blades.

Kaddish has been looking for the big score all of his life, but hasn't found it. As the book opens, Kaddish is busy defacing a grave in the older part of the Jewish cemetery so that a connection to a dubious forbearer can be disguised. That's how Kaddish earns his cigarette money. His university student son, Pato, is a reluctant participant. Father and son are in continual conflict. Kaddish's wife, Lillian, supports the family by working hard for little pay in an insurance broker's office. Concerned about safety, she is soon out buying the strongest door she can locate.

I won't go into more of the story from there lest I give away important details, but you'll find the plot to be amazingly well constructed to open up unexpected doors to empathy and understanding as you identify with one or both of the parents and wonder what you would do to keep your youngster safe.

How can I summarize what I feel about the book? It's a masterpiece.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary underrated novel, 17 Oct 2007
By 
pseudopanax (London) - See all my reviews
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The promise of Nathan Englander's collection of short stories For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is fulfilled with his first novel. Very few authors can achieve such a haunting conflation of comedy and tragedy as Englander. No better example can be found than his short story Tumblers--who would have thought that the Holocaust and circus performers could be brought together in a story both shocking and hilarious. Well, he has done it again with this novel but on a much grander scale. Argentina in the time of the Generals and the disappeared is at the beginning only a backdrop to the domestic comedy of the Poznan family, Kaddish, Lillian and Pato, but it soon creeps into their lives despite denial and the installation of a door designed to keep dangers at bay. The domestic comedy ebbs into a domestic tragedy that is at once unexpected and inevitable. The Poznans, already outsiders in the Jewish community, now become outsiders in their own country as well. The characterisations are marvellous--Lillian, Kaddish and Pato come to life on the page and the menagerie of minor characters is beautifully realised. Englander is a major novelist in the making and this is the best book I've read in 2007.
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5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!, 9 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Paperback)
A brilliant, clever novel. Set in Argentina at the time of the Generals, the first half is extremely funny, so that when it suddenly turns dark it is all the more powerful.
An antidote to "Evita".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 4 Mar 2012
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This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Paperback)
Great book of short stories by Nathan Englander. I could not find the book in the stores so was thrilled to find it on Amazon. Great service - thank you very much.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Low Comedy and Sharp Wit Lead to Laughter, Tears, Sadness, Hope, Desolation, and Absolution, 2 July 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Seldom has a novel commanded so many of my emotions. My heart felt like a piano on whose strings a master musician was playing both polkas and dirges. But most of all, Mr. Englander kept surprising me. I usually read mysteries to enjoy fictional surprises, but The Ministry of Special Cases provided many more surprises than any mystery I've read in recent years.

When I began reading the book, I had to stop and start over. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It's almost as though Hamlet started with the grave digger's scene.

How can I summarize this book? I'm not sure I can do so accurately, but I'll hit some of the right notes of I call this book Don Quixote at The Trial. In the process, Mr. Englander unerringly portrays a society that's failing because each person only wants to look out for himself or herself.

You will find yourself in Argentina during the beginning of the "dirty war" when many young people disappeared. What would it like to be a parent of such a young person? That's what you will graphically experience by reading The Ministry of Special Cases.

Kaddish Poznan was conceived through an accident between his prostitute mother and a customer. The rabbi granted Kaddish such an unusual name in hopes it would protect him. As the book evolves, you'll see that the name has indeed shaped his character as well as his actions. Many of the "respectable" Jews in Argentina at the time had forbearers who also engaged in illicit and illegal activities, while sporting colorful names such as Hezzi Two-Blades.

Kaddish has been looking for the big score all of his life, but hasn't found it. As the book opens, Kaddish is busy defacing a grave in the older part of the Jewish cemetery so that a connection to a dubious forbearer can be disguised. That's how Kaddish earns his cigarette money. His university student son, Pato, is a reluctant participant. Father and son are in continual conflict. Kaddish's wife, Lillian, supports the family by working hard for little pay in an insurance broker's office. Concerned about safety, she is soon out buying the strongest door she can locate.

I won't go into more of the story from there lest I give away important details, but you'll find the plot to be amazingly well constructed to open up unexpected doors to empathy and understanding as you identify with one or both of the parents and wonder what you would do to keep your youngster safe.

How can I summarize what I feel about the book? It's a masterpiece.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully desperate, 10 Sep 2008
By 
J. L. Carter - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Paperback)
I bought this book on a whim, the title grabbed me and what I expected was not delivered. Instead I was treated to the horror of the parents of the Disapeared. When the Protagonist meets the man who claims to know what happened to the young people, I could almost feel my heart stop with grief. Beautfully written and desperately sad while at the same time, maintaining hope and dark humour. Never before have I read a novel about the Argentinian Disapeared, my hope is that they are never forgotten.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The grief obscured by the clever clever writing, 29 Sep 2008
By 
Chris Widgery (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Paperback)
At its heart, this book is a tragedy. The tragedy of two parents whose eldest son is "disappeared", and their attempts to find out where he went and to try to get him back. And what could be more tragic? Combine this with the social changes happening in Argentina at the time, as the junta takes over and life changes, people become scared, selfish and self concerned and you have the raw material for a fantastic book.

And yet it didn't really do it for me. Englander's style was just too clever clever. Rather than bringing out the tragedy, it just got in the way. The two lead characters - Kaddish and his wife Lillian are well realised, but once again, let down by the style. Their totally different responses to their son's disappearance beautifully convincing, but, for me, they feel like characters in a literary fiction, rather than real people. Which was disappointing, as it maintains a distance from the emotions at the heart of the matter.

So it's OK. Bit hard to get into, and I never really enjoyed it as such, but I did keep going until the end.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In the dark, 1 Aug 2008
By 
Essex Girl (Essex (yes, really)) - See all my reviews
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This is a good - and sometimes very funny - book on a frightening subject. We're set up with a typically dysfunctional family in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Lillian, the mother, works for an insurance broker. Pato, the son, is a student. He argues with his father, hangs out with his friends, goes to lectures. So far, so normal.

But Kaddish, the father, spends his nights chipping the names off gravestones, paid by the descendants of the dead who don't want their antecedents to be tracked down to a disreputable graveyard. People, especially Jewish people like Kaddish and Lillian, are anxious to blend in, look respectable, not be noticed. This is Argentina, in the mid-70s, with students vanishing into thin air.

Pato gets noticed: the reader knows exactly where he's off to (thin air). The focus, though, is not on Pato but on his parents, what they do, how they respond. Kaddish's name is a clue in itself, the kaddish being the Jewish prayer in memory of the dead.

Having read Englander's short story collection ('For the Relief of Unbearable Urges') I kept expecting to be gripped, but I wasn't. I found it reasonably readable, but the people and the places aren't drawn particularly clearly: I felt I was trying to see in the dark that Kaddish works in. Sometimes the characters antics veered too far into the absurd to be credible. Even so, I'm glad I read it, and I think I'll remember it, mostly because the parents' agonised emotions are drawn with such clarity and vigour.
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The Ministry of Special Cases
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (Paperback - 3 July 2008)
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