Monday, May 28, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 47
Title: The Ministry of Special Cases
Author: Nathan Englander
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 5-27
Pages: 339

"It took madness, he felt, for two conflicting realities to exist at once. For Lillian and Kaddish in Argentina, it also did not. Everything and its opposite. As in the case of a son that is both living and dead."

Horrific events are captured with singular beauty in Nathan Englander’s novel, The Ministry of Special Cases. It is Englander’s second book and his first novel. He made a spectacular debut in 1999 with his short-story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges.

The Ministry of Special Cases is a story of one family caught up in Argentina’s Dirty War. Between 1976 and 1983, in a systematic campaign to wipe out left-wing terrorism, the nation’s ruling military junta detained many of its citizens, who then disappeared.

Conservatively, 9,000 people disappeared during the junta’s reign of terror. Some estimates run as high as 30,000. Englander writes about three – Kaddish and Lillian Poznan and their son Pato.

Much of the power in Englander’s story derives from these three characters, who are ordinary in almost every respect (Kaddish does claim an unusual background and an even more peculiar profession). As Jews in Buenos Aires the Poznans are among a distinict minority, but this does not seem to be the reason they are targeted by the junta. Lillian and Kaddish work, while Pato goes to the university, attends concerts and hangs with his network of friends. The Poznans love one another, although Kaddish and Pato are caught up in the fierce, generational conflict that so often envelopes father and son.

And then Pato disappears and the fabric of the family is ripped apart.

Lillian insists Pato lives and will return home at any moment. Lillian's quest to find Pato leads her through an absurd labyrinthine government bureaucracy. Kaddish’s quest leads to find their son leads him to a fishing dock in Buenos Aires, an Air Force navigator and the truth. Kaddish comes to the realization that their son has died a horrible death shared by thousands of other innocent children.

Yet with no body who is say who is right -- Kaddish or Lillian. It is that uncertainity that is at the heart of the horror of The Ministry of Special Cases.

Englander has assembled a powerful and compelling narrative. The Ministry of Special Cases is a beautifully written elegy to the enormous loss encountered by the Argentineans during the Dirty War, and their courage in the face of inexplicable horror and unrelenting hopelessness.

1 comment:

  1. good work keep it up...

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