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The English Disease Hardcover – May 23, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The sophisticated interplay of conflicted faith and prosaic everyday life, and the clashes between inborn heritage and constructed love, are at the heart of this second novel by the author of the memorable A Blessing on the Moon. A middle-aged secular Jew raised in Texas, Charles Belski is a musicologist who searches for the secret to theology through the works and lives of various historical personalities: Wagner, Mahler, and Zeppo and Groucho Marx. A reluctant husband and father, Belski is also the first of his family to marry outside his religion. The Catholic background of his beautiful wife, Isabelle, is only one of a series of seemingly irreconcilable differences; underlying their marital tension is the disparity between their upbringings and their ways of looking at the world, including their disagreements regarding their daughter Franny's religious upbringing. Belski travels through the canyons of the Southwest with Isabelle to try and save their marriage and to Auschwitz to save his faith, when the key to both might lie closer to their California home. They seem the ultimate mismatched couple: Charles is brooding and neurotic; his wife businesslike and practical. Positively laden with references to the icons of Western culture, and infused with irony and satire, the narrative drags at points when Skibell uses his fictional setting to reflect on the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust and to argue that Wagner contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism. About the quest for both spiritual satisfaction and marital contentment, the story moves to a surprisingly rich denouement in which Charles's dour intellectualism takes second place to his emotional fulfillment.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Skibell, author of A Blessing on the Moon (1997), returns with a wildly funny novel that is equal parts Philip Roth, Groucho Marx, and Woody Allen. The hero, musicologist Charles Belski, rants against American civilization like Portnoy in full cry: "I can't stomach ketchup. The smell and even the sight of it make me queasy, as do the other major American condiments." A self-described "sensitive melancholic" (depression, he notes, was once called the English Disease), Belski struggles most with marriage, fatherhood, and his lack of connection with his Jewish roots. The first--and funniest--part of the novel finds Belski and his long-suffering shiksa wife, Isabelle, on a bizarre tour of the Southwest reminiscent of Humbert Humbert's cross-country trek with Lolita. Belski's later journey to Poland, an odd mix of slapstick and the Holocaust, sits a bit uncomfortably with the rest of the story. The novel never quite holds together, perhaps because Belski's identity crisis seems like the premise to a stand-up comic's monologue: "I was so depressed, I . . ." Still, the monologues are funny enough to make us forget about everything else. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (May 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565122577
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565122574
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,206,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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on February 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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VINE VOICEon December 26, 2003
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on June 16, 2003
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on February 20, 2004
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on January 27, 2013
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VINE VOICEon January 19, 2012
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on March 20, 2006
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