Customer Review

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
This review is from: The Ministry of Special Cases (Hardcover)
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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