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The Ministry of Special Cases (Vintage International) (edition 2008)

by Nathan Englander

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904339,757 (3.7)141
Member:KABLOOEY
Title:The Ministry of Special Cases (Vintage International)
Authors:Nathan Englander
Info:Vintage (2008), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
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The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (Author)

  1. 10
    Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: Different countries, different times, but both books tell of ordinary people battling against a powerful regime
  2. 00
    The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior by Horacio Verbitsky (Voise15)
  3. 00
    The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (gust)
  4. 00
    The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon (boo-radley)
  5. 00
    The Moldavian Pimp by Edgardo Cozarinsky (SqueakyChu)
  6. 12
    The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (hairball)
    hairball: While one is an alternative history and the other is based around historical fact (Argentina's disappeared), they have a similar flavor to them.
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English (31)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  All (33)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Worth the Wait: For those of us who have been waiting for Englander's next book , "The Ministry of Special Cases" was certainly worth the wait. While set in Argentina during the Dirty War, the mind-numbing-struggle this family faces against a totalitarian regime that refuses to acknowledge its sins, is a universal one. The story is deeply tragic and yet somehow Englander laces it all with his special brand of humor. We laugh and cry with the characters because Englander makes them breathe for us. We watch them live the full spectrum of human experience and sometimes life hurts but still the author helps us find reasons to laugh along the way.
  lonepalm | Feb 5, 2014 |
Is this Englander's Holocaust novel? Sometimes a subject has been covered so often that one needs a filter to look at it afresh. The rise of the military regime in Argentina could be that filter, as a middle-aged Jewish couple in Buenos Aires try to hold their ground amidst the elimination of civil rights and the arbitrary cruelty of those in charge. As the angst in this novel was increasingly getting to me, I did wonder whether the author had found a new way to convey the impact of the "Nacht und Nebel" tactics of the Nazis. This is not standard Englander, and is not a masterpiece, as the book clearly has some flaws (the first 100 pages were a bit tough to get through). But the atmosphere and the female character will stay with me for a long time. ( )
  fist | Jul 20, 2013 |
Curiously gripping. I should have been so much more upset while reading, though. ( )
  ELiz_M | Apr 6, 2013 |
Very well done, and without the schmalzy ending that probably would've ensued had a lesser writer taken this story on. ( )
  KatrinkaV | May 9, 2012 |
Nathan Englander’s scathing indictment of the military dictatorship in place in Argentina in the mid-1970s is told through the tale of one family’s harrowing experience. Kaddish Poznan and his wife Lillian live a quiet life with their college-age son, Pato. Kaddish has a hard time providing for his family and he and Pato have a contentious father-son relationship. Lillian, in the meantime, is waiting for Kaddish to come home for the first time ever, having made things right. She’s lived with so much disappointment but now she knows that part of her life is done. That is, until the worst possible thing happens and tears their little family apart.

What an education this book provided about a period in history that I knew nothing about---Argentina’s Dirty Wars between 1976 and 1983, when the disappearance of young people occurred on a regular basis and torture and murder happen commonly, leaving family members the only one option: haunting the halls of the Ministry of Special Cases, searching for justice.

Englander’s prose sings and keeps the very dark narrative humming along. At the time of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, things were different in Argentina:

“A beggar sat in a doorway. In this neighborhood he looked twice as poor. Kaddish fished for change but had passed before he came up with something small. He walked on and spent the money on a “Clarin,” scanning the front page and shaking his head. Everything is coming apart around them and his newspaper runs a picture of an Uncle Sam up on stilts; the Yankees always happy to throw a party for themselves. The only thing Argentina will have to celebrate on its two hundredth anniversary is the miracle of turning back the clocks. The Stone Age would reach Buenos Aires before the future did, of this Kaddish was sure.” (Page 33)

Highly recommended. ( )
5 vote brenzi | Jun 6, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
On its own, highly individual terms, however, the novel proves that Englander is well on the way to justifying the euphoria that his name evokes.
 
Englander's contention is similar: in a corrupt and murderous system the scale of moral values shifts, and actions can no longer be judged on their proper terms. No one remains unscathed in a society that betrays its own laws and turns a blind eye to its murderers and torturers. Maybe for that reason we require, in time, the gaze of literature that, dismissing official versions and political assessments, forces us to look once again upon the suffering Zeus has sent us.
 
Hoe nadrukkelijk ook een vertelling door een wikkende en wegende auteur, die zijn personages in zijn macht heeft en gretig strooit met relativerende humoristische frasen, grijpt deze roman je vanaf zijn eerste schitterende zin naar de keel.
Met zijn bijna provocerend-literaire aanpak en zijn vermogen om humor en drama op een zowel ongemakkelijke als onlosmakelijke wijze met elkaar te vervlechten, doet Englander denken aan Jonathan Safran Foer.
Beiden beschikken over het vermogen om hartverscheurend grappig te zijn. Dat duidt op een groot talent.
added by sneuper | editde Volkskrant, Hans Bouman (Jun 29, 2007)
 
Een dergelijke, nadrukkelijk literaire benadering kan tot een steriele roman leiden. Daarvan is in Het ministerie van Buitengewone Zaken echter geen sprake. Hoe nadrukkelijk ook een vertelling door een wikkende en wegende auteur, die zijn personages in zijn macht heeft en gretig strooit met relativerende humoristische frasen, grijpt deze roman je vanaf zijn eerste schitterende zin naar de keel.

Met zijn bijna provocerend-literaire aanpak en zijn vermogen om humor en drama op een zowel ongemakkelijke als onlosmakelijke wijze met elkaar te vervlechten, doet Englander denken aan Jonathan Safran Foer.

Beiden beschikken over het vermogen om hartverscheurend grappig te zijn. Dat duidt op een groot talent.
added by sneuper | editde Volkskrant, Hans Bouman (Jun 29, 2007)
 
Englander softens the jagged edges of history too much; the Dirty War becomes a stage set for explorations of identity. Beautifully written, “The Ministry of Special Cases” nonetheless presents a conundrum. Englander does in fiction what his absent God cannot: create a world. And then he peoples that world with characters that he treats better than history ever would.
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Englander, NathanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoekmeijer, NicoletteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
WOMAN Come, let me go at once and incense burn In thanks to Heav'n for my child's safe return.
The Doctor and the Gravedigger, they are partners. - Yiddish Proverb
Dedication
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Jews bury themselves the way they live, crowded together, encroaching on one another's space.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Lillian and Kaddish Poznan live with their 19-year-old son Pato in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1970’s. Kaddish makes a living by rubbing out names on Jewish gravestones. He lives his life in a way to distance himself from his Jewishness. Both parents have a sense of fear and attempt to fortify their personal security when suddenly police come to their home to remove their son. In their search for their disappeared son, the parents find that most acquaintances fearfully withdraw any alliance they have to Pato. Both friends and the government beaurocracy combine to become one forceful labyrinth into which the parents delve differently in an effort to retrieve their son.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375404937, Hardcover)

The long-awaited novel from Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Englander’s wondrous and much-heralded collection of stories won the 2000 Pen/Malamud Award and was translated into more than a dozen languages.

From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence--and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, the refuge of last resort.

Nathan Englander’s first novel is a timeless story of fathers and sons. In a world turned upside down, where the past and the future, the nature of truth itself, all take shape according to a corrupt government’s whims, one man--one spectacularly hopeless man--fights to overcome his history and his name, and, if for only once in his life, to put things right. Here again are all the marvelous qualities for which Englander’s first book was immediately beloved: his exuberant wit and invention, his cosmic sense of the absurd, his genius for balancing joyfulness and despair. Through the devastation of a single family, Englander captures, indelibly, the grief of a nation. The Ministry of Special Cases, like Englander’s stories before it, is a celebration of our humanity, in all its weakness, and--despite that--hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:20 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina's Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won't accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence - and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, the refuge of last resort." "Nathan Englander's first novel is a timeless story of fathers and sons. In a world turned upside down, where the past and the future, the nature of truth itself, all take shape according to a corrupt government's whims, one man - one spectacularly hopeless man - fights to overcome his history and his name, and, if for only once in his life, to put things right."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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