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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To Extremes
The allusion to Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" in the title piece is a little stretched, but it is a terrific story just the same. The similarity is mainly the situation of a alcohol-fueled conversation between two married couples that reveal some uncomfortable truths. Englander does not go for Carver's compact elegance, but his truths would...
Published on January 2, 2012 by Roger Brunyate

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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Praise Inflation
Nathan Englander is reckoned a great writer now, and it shows in the constellation of literary stars who have endorsed this book of short stories with a blurb. Jonathan Franzen calls this work a "fine-grained comedy and large scale-tragedy." Jonathan Safran Foer, Englander's friend, says the work "overflows with revelations and gems." Michael Cabon sums it all up when...
Published on March 15, 2012 by Eric Maroney


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully-crafted short-stories, March 28, 2013
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A wonderful, masterful collection of short stories; I really enjoyed reading this book & savoured each story.

Written by the much-celebrated young(ish) Jewish-American writer, Nathan Englander, who first came to the spotlight in the 90s with another short story collection (`for the release of unbearable urges'), this has received great reviews since it came out last year, and I think they're well deserved.

`What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank', the title story (a homage to R. Carver), is at once funny and bitterly tragic. By and large, the same can be said for most of the stories in this book that tend to be absurd and/or comical, but at the same time always quite sad. The main theme running through Englander's work, as most reviewers have already pointed out, is to do with the Jewish experience both in the US and in Israel, both in the present and the (relatively recent) past. But, being a non-Jewish reader myself, I didn't feel alienated nor did I feel there were references I couldn't follow. Englander's stories offer sharp insights on universal themes such as aging, long-term married life and its struggles, memory, revenge, as well as the conflict between traditional (for example, Hassidic) Judaism and more modern, reformed or secular strands.

I enjoyed the title story, which was as I said both funny & tragic. `Sister hills' is set in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and provides such an interesting window into a world I know little about from first-hand experience. It's a Solomon-like story of two mothers fighting over one child and offers a tour de force of absurd or even delusional argumentation on the part of a deranged-with-bereavement mother, which somehow manages to make sense and poses a real moral (and logical) dilemma.

The stories move between modern US and Israel, and the Holocaust inevitably runs through some of them as a common theme that is tackled from different angles. For example, `Free fruit for young widows' is a striking story which asks the question: can someone who has survived the worst of the concentration camp experiences ever return to `ordinary' life and `ordinary' morality? Or is such a trauma simply stamped onto survivors in a way that can't be escaped?

There were a few stories- such as `Peep show', `How we avenged the Blums' and `Camp Sundown' that I didn't enjoy quite as much, for some reason they didn't come alive for me (maybe my fault rather than the writer's); generally, my one complaint about the book is that the stories are a bit uneven in that some are masterpieces, while others are merely good (none are bad or even mediocre).

There's one story that stood out for me, which was `Everything I know about my family on my mother's side'. I read this as an autobiographical account of N. Englander's own family life, and it felt by far the most personal and tender piece in the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a little disappointing, April 25, 2013
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This review is from: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Hardcover)
I had read a good review of these two books, so I bought them and read this one first. My basic impression of this whole book of short stories is that the title of the book is the best part of it, and the story in it by the same name is the best story. The stories ramble around trying to get to the point, but take too long to get there. I read the whole book, but I was so unimpressed that I didn't even open "The Ministry of Special Cases" and I'm going to take them both to a used book store, since I'll never read them again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nathan, we need to talk - and not about Anne Frank, March 26, 2013
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Clearly there are some significant features that are worthy of praise in this short story collection. But the book as a whole is neither consistent in its quality nor engaging enough to warrant merit over and above the fact that it is worth reading. The road between worthy and profound is a long one and this piece of literature only gets about halfway down that road. And it’s disappointing because the first story really succeeds in character depth, dramatic interaction and poignancy as it culminates into an uneasy yet fascinating end.
“Sister Hills”, with its allegorical elements and its fable form, must be accepted for what it is, but a problem emerges here which runs throughout the rest of the book and that is the inability to actually find empathy with the protagonists, but rather to view the narrative as a narrative, a viewpoint, an instructive tale of interest. Period.
Notwithstanding, it must be noted that Englander is most certainly a risk-taker and his willingness and skill in taking his story to a place of illusion or perceived reality together with original thought and perception -while not burdening the reader with fantasy overload- is really praiseworthy. Thus in the piece “Peepshow” for example, we meander into unfamiliar landscapes with familiar themes that dominate American Jewish Literature: struggling with the past; with the dissonance of integration into American society from a cultural religious ethos embedded deep into the consciousness of the immigrant experience going down to second and third generations.
And precisely because of this ability to craft so adroitly and fearlessly move into the zone where anything can happen, it is dismaying to find pieces such as “How we avenged the Blums” or “Everything I know about my family on my mother’s side”. Memoirs (albeit with a fictional veneer) and anecdotal literature is fine but when it is not engaging or weighted with solid literary form, it’s completely out of context in such a collection. “Blums” would have been excellent had we been able to identify with someone there – the victim, the perpetrator, the narrator , whoever. But nothing.
Overall, we are looking at an important literary contribution with the hope that the clear short-fallings come right in future works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Overrated, January 27, 2013
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Stuart (Richmond, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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The title story is the best. Non of the other stories seem to go any ware. The characters don't learn anything. He has no sympathy for understanding of Orthodox Jews. The only thing I learned from this book was the author's own prejudices. He has no sympathy for his own characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neither I nor my book club particularly enjoyed this book, January 13, 2013
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Our entire book club chose this book for our monthly meeting. Unusually for us we were unanimous in our dislike of the book. Generally, the first story and the last one seemed to garner the best comments but all those in between left us wanting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nathan Sugarman, June 3, 2012
This review is from: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Hardcover)
While most reviews discuss the obvious and daring connection between the title story of this collection and the famous work of Raymond Carver, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", I haven't read about another connection- let's call it the "Sugarman Connection".

A Jewish-American author who writes a story in which Anne Frank plays an important role may not be in need of a ghost writer, but certainly has his/her eye on "The Ghostwriter" the P. Rothian introduction to Nathan Zuckerman. This author already has a first name (allegedly) to match the non-existent NZ and to wit, a character named Nathan shows up in one of the stories. Well, I guess we'd all like to have the title "JA writer of the generation" passed onto our shoulders.

Two of the stories, "Peep Show" and "How We Avenged the Blums" seem like retread Woodie Allen- the "What's My Perversion" tieing up of Rabbi Chaim Baumel (by the long forgotten Pamela Mason) scene in "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex", for example.

Some of the stories, are masterpieces. "Sister Hills" in particular moved me greatly, both in its Biblical, "let's split the kid" analogy and its sad and wise understanding and interpretation of the 45 years of settlement history in the West Bank and/or Judea and Samaria, depending on your PCness.

"Everything I Know About My family on My Mother's Side" with its fractured format and its tapping into the not so quite clear memories that many of us have about our families, and even ourselves. The truths that we create are often more meaningful to us than the truths that are true.

I liked the Babel reference in "The Reader". With Roth/Ozick/Safran Foer/Krause/Grossman etc. having a corner on the Schultz reference market, it is nice to have a reference to the other tragically murdered short story Jewish European genius of the 20th century (although he shows up in both P and H Roth's works as well).

The majority of the stories moved me in the way that stories should move one. I enjoyed my time together with these stories and unlike many others, I'll visit them again some time in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many of these are dark!, April 20, 2012
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Empark (Alexandria, VA) - See all my reviews
These stories are mostly dark and disturbing. Which can be OK, but many of the titles seem lighter. It's also extremely Jewish (not just in a "I'll learn a lot culturally" or "cool, some of these are set in Israel" but in a "without being Jewish, maybe there's a lot that I'm missing" vibe).

That said, the first story (the book title) is very clever and very disturbing. Additionally, it's a fantastic story of two 40 year old couples spending a Sunday afternoon together but not really knowing much about each other except that the two women went to high school (yeshiva) together. They get drunk and high (one mother just found their 16 year old's pot stash) and they start playing what the book jacket calls a Holocaust parlor game. Trust me, whether or not you're Jewish, you will think through how these scenarios could play out in your life (clever!). There are two disturbing reveals--one about a dad's Holocaust experience and one at the end. This story will be hard to forget and yet the dynamics of the four people are a fascinating read.

I also liked the What I Know About My Mother's Side of the Family story. It uses a gimmick (numbered paragraphs) but it's an effective narrative and moving story.

The rest of stories were not that interesting to me. But it's short and fairly typical of recent short story collections.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What I Talk About When I Talk About Short Stories, March 26, 2012
By 
A. Budner (Suburban Philly) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Hardcover)
The first and last stories in this collection are brilliant. They are intellectually satisfying, funny, and emotionally wrenching. In them Englander manages to address issues and themes that have run through my life, and I suspect many Jewish and half-Jewish (that would be me) Americans born after WWII and the founding of Israel. What role does Judaism as a religion play in our lives? If we do not practice, are we still Jewish? How do we know what we would have done if caught in the horror that was the Holocaust? Who can we trust and how do we judge? It is a measure of Englander's talent that these tales could also be read by someone who does not share the same background and their power would not be diminished. If every story in this collection were as good as these two, this would be a five star book.

Unfortunately, although the pieces in between have their moments, they fail to reach the same level in terms of craft or emotional punch. Englander has still to find a strong balance between incorporating talmudic, magical and folkloric elements into his work in ways that do not feel forced. Too often the experimentation doesn't deepen the reader's experience of the emotional state of the characters, but distracts from it. Did we really need the naked rabbis in "Peep Show" to feel Ari/Alan's guilt over abandoning his usual homeward commute to dash into a Times Square dive? Nor is the choice to promote the central character of "The Reader" to the iconic "The Author" give universality and heft to it's look at aging, and the indiscriminate ability of time to destroy us without sympathy. I would have preferred a more particularized central character who would have elicited my sympathy for his plight rather than being pushed to see this small, uneventful tale as a discourse on the human condition.

Still, even when he doesn't completely succeed, Englander writes with grace, sharp observation and emotional heft. I have looked forward to this new collection since I picked up his first, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges," on a whim when it was first published. I look forward to his next as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Shorts, March 7, 2012
This review is from: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Hardcover)
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For the longest time I was completely turned off by short stories. I just never felt like they provided enough meat for me to sink my teeth into. Then I met a professor who explained to me that I was just reading the "wrong" short stories and she set me on the right path. Under her tutelage I had the opportunity to read some amazing short stories and meet some amazing new authors (Joyce Carol Oates,Paolo Bacigalupi, Angela Carter...and numerous others). After awhile I began to get a solid feel for what a good short story was and what made a good short story or what made and excellent short story. Nathan Englander writes "good" short stories. The title story was my absolute favorite; at the end I just sat in bed thinking, "WoW..."that" really puts things into perspective, doesn't it." There was just something that was so authentic to the story, so real, that it was easy to get caught up in it. I agree the stories are a little on the longer side and I would advise against trying to read anymore than one in an evening. All of the stories are at least worthy of a "good," but, in my humble opinion, his title story is worthy of a "great."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good collection from a unique and gifted writer, February 12, 2012
By 
moose_of_many_waters (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Hardcover)
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Let's be honest. I'm in the tank for Nathan Englander. If he were to copy the phone book word for word and print it as a novel, I'd probably give it four stars. OK, that's an exaggeration, but you get my drift.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll say What We Talk About isn't as good or compelling as Englander's first two books. In comparison, the stories here are a little too breezy for my taste. But there are magic moments. There are times when I sat on a sentence and stopped to admire what was on the page. That rarely happens to me with any author.

In Jewish short fiction, the holy grail is Bernard Malamud. The turns of phrase, the tight construction, the great ideas that drive the stories, nobody has done it better. Probably nobody will ever do it better. Englander comes as close as anyone has as of late. There's the same manic energy on every page, the same idea driven approach to writing. What Englander lacks is that gift for the three word analogy that makes your jaw drop.

Then again, Malamud was in his forties when he really hit his groove. Englander has just reached his forties. Here's to hoping that, like Malamud, he keeps getting better and better. For me, by far the best story in this collection was one that first appeared in the New Yorker a while back, Free Fruit for Young Widows. It has an economy of words and an instantly captivating setting that all the best short stories have. The other stories, while generally very good, had little glitches and loose spots that gave me pause and caused me to edit on the fly.

If you're interested in reading Englander for the first time, I'd recommend his first short story collection and then his novel. Once you become a fan (How can you not?), read this one.
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander (Hardcover - February 7, 2012)
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