Minestry of Special Cases

The Ministry of Special Cases

by Nathan Englander

Janet Kolodner: I agree with Gail. The characters are quirky, the story keeps you engrossed, ... Nathan Englander is one of this generation's best writers, I think, though not for everyone.
Rating: *****

Arlene Almas: I read this book on the basis of Gail's review, and was not disappointed. In the midst of the nightmare of having their beloved son Pato "disappeared" by the police, Kaddish and Lillian live out their very different responses to the crisis and try to maintain their relationship with each other; there are even moments of humor.

We are introduced to representatives of various factions within the city, most revealing themselves to be completely helpless in the face of the unending irrational abductions, torture, and murders, except for the generals of the ruling junta and the police. The actual Ministry of Special Cases, one of the government's departments, could not have been brought to life any better by Kafka himself. This story grabbed me and would not let go - it is a terrible tale, but beautifully written.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid: The Ministry of Special Cases delves into far more than the 30,000 people who "disappeared" in Argentina during the "dirty war" of the mid-seventies. Kaddish Poznan was raised among socially outcast Jews in Buenos Aires who were thieves, thugs and prostitutes. He earns his meager living chiseling out the names of these people from their tombstones, having been hired by their Jewish offspring who have become professionals in mainstreatm Buenos Aires.

Together with his long-suffering wife Lillian, the breadwinner, they are often at odds with their rebellious son Pato, a disaffected college student. When Pato "disappears" at the hands of the military junta, Kaddish and Lillian respond and react in completely different ways. Nathan Englander writes insightfully about the dynamics of family relationships, the tragic nightmare that besets the Poznans, and their Kafkaesque visits to the ministry of special cases to appeal for the return of their son.

I think the book will appeal to readers on many levels. The quirky characters, the interwoven and sometimes humorous subplots, the terrific command of language and dialogue, and the uniqueness of the story all work together to deliver a dark, but thought-provoking and memorable read. All of my book club members loved this book! Rating: ****

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