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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan…

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999)

by Nathan Englander

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I found many of these stories funny or poignant, but I didn't feel that any of them concluded strongly. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 4, 2014 |
For the relief of unbearable urges is a collection of nine short stories, which are all very well-written, but a trifle boring. Placing the author on an equal footing as Philip Roth or Saul Bellow is really rather premature.

Jewish people are not by definition more interesting than other people. A short story must be infused with some inspiration. It is here where Englander's stories are wanting.

The first two stories are excellent. They are recognizable, very well-written, and deal with some of the major themes in the literature of Jewish writers on the Twentieth century. The first story in the collection "The Twenty-seventh Man" is reminiscent of Kafka, descrbing the fate of Jewish intellectuals under Stalin, while the second story, "The Tumblers" deals with the holocaust. Both stories are original, and immediately accessible. To some extent that is also true of the title story (number eight in the collection), "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges", which end with on a "funny" note. The other stories miss the characteristic accessibility through familiarity with the stories as belonging to the genre of Jewish (-American) literature. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Feb 3, 2013 |
This is the 3rd book that I have read by Englander. It was interesting to compare this first effort with his latest publication of short stories. I was very impressed with these short stories. Having been raised in a reasonably religious Jewish home, I usually don't read this subject matter, but because I have read previous Englander books, I decided to read it. It really illustrates the problems with deeply religious groups who seem to adhere more to ritual than to the spirit of the religion. Englander captures this in his stories. He also shows great creativity in many of the stories while bringing out his message. Although this book might resonate more with people of the Jewish faith, I think it has something for everyone. An excellent writer who I will continue to read. ( )
  nivramkoorb | Aug 30, 2012 |
Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American writer living in Jerusalem. His short stories feature Jewish people going about their daily lives in a somewhat extraordinary way. Each story highlights a different aspect of being, not just Jewish, but a person. They resonate deeply, even if one is not at all familiar with the way of life and traditions of this culture.
I, personally, know next to nothing about Jewish culture. I have read next to nothing on the subject, and what I do know comes from popular media and is probably inaccurate. I can tell, however, that the details and characterizations in this work are extremely accurate and draw the reader into identification with characters who are about as disparate from him or her as an ant is from a water buffalo.
The first two stories are set a little more than half a century ago and as such, are heartbreaking. What shines through in these two tales is the indomitable spirit of the characters when faced with certain death. The next few tales are more contemporary and slightly more light-hearted. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to find out that they are all organized chronologically.
I enjoyed "Reb Kringle' the most. "The Wig" I found almost silly. "Reunion" was deeply moving. I would not be at all surprised if the final narrative, "In This Way We Are Wise" is autobiographical. I don't want to give more of a synopsis in this review because I would encourage everyone to experience this collection for themselves. It is poignant and fascinating. ( )
4 vote EmScape | Jul 8, 2009 |
Englander focuses much of his attention on developing complex characters that require scrutiny from readers. One of the best things about this collection is that a reader can come in and do one or two of the stories and leave satisfied; yet, for the more serious reader, second and third reads of the entire collection yield new discoveries, making this book great for light readers as well as lovers of literature. ( )
  ral12345 | Jun 5, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375704434, Paperback)

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is an astonishment. Whether Nathan Englander is creating the last days of 27 condemned Soviet writers or the first in which a Park Avenue lawyer finds religion (in a taxi, no less), his gift is everywhere in evidence. Englander's specialty is the collision of Jewish law and tradition with secular realities, whether in Brooklyn, Tel Aviv, or Stalinist Russia. In one tale, a wigmaker from an ultra-orthodox Brooklyn enclave journeys into Manhattan for supplies and, more importantly, inspiration--frequenting a newsstand where she pays for the right to flip through forbidden fashion magazines. If all Ruchama wants to do is be beautiful again and momentarily free of communal constraints, others ask only to survive. In "The Tumblers," set in World War II Poland (with a metafictional twist), followers of the Mahmir Rebbe get into a train filled with circus performers rather than into a cattle car. Their only chance is to camouflage themselves as part of the troupe:
Their acceptance as acrobats was a stretch, a first-glance guess, a benefit of the doubt granted by circumstance and only as valuable as their debut would prove. It was an absurd undertaking. But then again, Mendel thought, no more unbelievable than the reality from which they'd escaped, no more unfathomable than the magic of disappearing Jews.
Another story, "Reb Kringle," is almost breezy by comparison. Each year, one Brooklynite dreads his holiday job from hell, playing Santa Claus in a Manhattan department store: "There were elves posted on each side of Itzik; one--a humorless, muscular midget--wore a pair of combat boots that gave him the look of elf-at-arms. His companion might have been a twin. He wore black high-tops but had the same vigilant paramilitary demeanor." Itzik can put up with the children's accidents and greed, with his sciatica, and even with a mischief maker's attempt to cut off his beard. But when one boy admits that what he really wants to do is celebrate Hanukkah, "the infamous Reb Santa" loses it. Though this is undoubtedly the collection's lightest piece--proof positive that you have to be a saint to be a Jewish Santa--it is no less piercing an examination of identity and obligation than Englander's more heavyweight entries. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Stories on being Jewish set in various parts of the world. In the title story, a sex-starved husband in New York is authorized by his rabbi to visit a prostitute, In This Way We Are Wise is on the nonchalant attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to terrorism, while Reb Kringle is on a Jew who works as Santa Claus in a department store.… (more)

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