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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories Paperback – March 5, 2013
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*Starred Review* The sense comes easily that Englander, author of the celebrated short story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999) and the absorbing novel The Ministry of Special Cases (2007), will always favor the short story form. In his new collection, the reader feels the musculature beneath the skin of his short fiction and keenly appreciates that this is where his supreme power lies. Englander is his own writer. One may think of, say, Bernard Malamud as a possible influence, but which masters, if any, guided him in the early stages of his career have been bid adieu, as Englander sails his own personally mapped seas. His plots are richly developed, and traditional short story techniques are used only when suitable. A case in point is the complex “Sister Hills,” which, fablelike in its deep resonance and applicability to human behavior beyond its particular circumstances, sees the growth of a Jewish settlement at various points in time, from 1973 to 2011. But in the drama unfolding in the foreground, one woman gives her child to another woman to protect the youngster from unidentified evil. The stresses between Jewish orthodoxy and a more secular practice of religious life are apparent in the title story, in which two school friends, grown now and with husbands and children, visit together 20 years after one couple moved to Israel and turned Hasidic. Their discussion of lifestyle choices, specifically within the context of a hypothetical second Holocaust, leads to uncomfortable realizations about one woman’s spouse. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Showcases Mr. Englander’s extraordinary gifts as a writer.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“I’m in love. For evidence that collections can be just as satisfying, read as deep, if not deeper, and beat with as much life and insight as a hulking novel, look no further.” —Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
Audacious and idiosyncratic, darkly clever and brightly faceted.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Terrific. . . . When is a short story mightier than a novel? When its elisions speak as loudly as its lines. Englander knows where to hold back, a particular gift when writing about and around the martyr of his title, the locked up and locked in. A kind of hard-won wisdom spills out on every page.” —Stacy Schiff, The New York Times Book Review
“Imaginatively powerful. . . . What makes the stories resonate long after their final paragraphs is Englander’s odd coupling of the morally serious and the deliciously comic. . . . His second collection of short stories more than fulfills the large promises of his first. What do we do when we talk about Englander? We talk about how he has become a master storyteller.” —The Miami Herald
“Humane, philosophically provocative. . . . Each story in the book is essentially a parable, and Englander’s special talent is to burnish his parables with a patina of persuasive realism. . . . Characters tell (and re-tell) stories within stories, and seek to understand themselves by means of narrative, in a way that seems quintessentially, satisfyingly Jewish.” —Boston Globe
“Englander is at his best. . . . He never writes less than gorgeously, but when, from narrow confines, he puts his finger on the universal, he’s Shakespeare.” —Bloomberg News
“Nathan Englander is a master at putting remarks into the mouths of ordinary people that distill entire streams of politics and religion. . . . They ring true and are a funny, chilling, joy to read.” —The Plain Dealer
“Profound and magical. . . . These eight masterful stories also continue the work of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud—authors who mined the Jewish-American experience with tremendous humor, humanity and healthy amounts of guilt.” —USA Today
“What Englander is saying is that we know ourselves, or don’t, on different levels, that we exist individually and as part of a heritage. . . . Who will hide us? Who are we, really? How do ritual and culture intersect? Such questions exist at the heart of this accomplished collection, in which stories are what make us who we are.” —Los Angeles Times
“Nathan Englander writes the stories I am always hoping for, searching for. These are stories that transport you into other lives, other dreams. This is deft, engrossing, deeply satisfying work. Englander is, to me, the modern master of the form. And this collection is the very best.” —Geraldine Brooks
“Grade A. . . . Virtuosic. . . . Each of these meticulously chiseled stories contains a hidden stinger that throws the reader for a wicked loop. . . . These are stories that give you goose bumps.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Englander’s latest short story collection marks him out as one of the finest American writers of his generation.” —Financial Times
“It takes an exceptional combination of moral humility and moral assurance to integrate fine-grained comedy and large-scale tragedy as daringly as Nathan Englander does.” —Jonathan Franzen
“The stories are so tightly wrought, the sentences laid out so cleanly, the dialogue so real and the humor so self-lacerating. . . . If Mr. Englander is in fact the future of Jewish-American prose, then that future looks to be a far more moral and compassionate one than the writing of the recent past. . . . the humor and the brilliance, and the investigation of cultural identity, are all still there.” —The New York Observer
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is Nathan Englander’s wisest, funniest, bravest, and most beautiful book. It overflows with revelations and gems.” —Jonathan Safran Foer
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As a Holocaust educator, I see that, in general, most of us see the victims as sinless. We tend to block the concept that every group has its honorable populace as well as those with less than stellar reputations. Furthermore, we have not seen our families killed, our homes taken from us, nor, had to live through degrading times. We haven't had to emerge back into the world and create a new normal. We haven't had to steal, lie, cheat, and kill for our families or ourselves to survive. The good people we think of when we speak of Anne Frank and the Holocaust, did not emerge from it as the same people they were. Today we understand the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can give patience and pity to those sufferers.
The author didn't attempt to prepare his readers for the characters in each vignette. For the most part, they aren't nice people. Their behavior is often irrational and selfish. And that's shocking when we are expecting sensitivity and innocence, as in Anne herself.
I finished the stories only by forcing myself to read to the bitter end. This is not a book I enjoyed reading. It definitely is not one I would recommend to anyone under the age of 16 and surely would not want anyone to read it prior to studying the events that led up to Holocaust, the genocide, and its aftermath.
The characters' voices and points of view are written clearly. Overall, the mood is depressing and the reader will have difficulty bonding with the characters. Because it's well-written, it deserves four stars, yet, my dislike for the content would rate it only two stars. Since reviews should not punish the author for the reviewer's personal tastes, it will remain a four-stars book. Readers, beware; you have been warned.
1) The title story was far and away the best. It was cute & terrifying all at once. That’s kind of hard to do.
2) The Reader. Worth looking at for anyone who’s written anything--even so much as a term paper. Deals with the questions of ‘why do we write in the first place?’ and ‘who cares?’
3) The other stories. They were okay, I guess. I’ll have to think about it.
4) Lots of Hebrew and Yiddish expressions throughout. It was kind of neat seeing these words so naturally interwoven into the flow of the narrative, but it would have been nice if there were an appendix listing these expressions and their meanings. I’m not Jewish, so I’m not familiar with most of them. It’s probably wishful thinking to suppose that an American Jew would know all of them. So a little help here would be appreciated.
Englander is kind of a cool last name. I like it. It honors England but at the same time has a Germanic feel to it. Can we expect great literature from Mr Englander? Probably, but I’ll be satisfied with a well-told story. It might be great literature, it might not, but I don’t really care. I’m not passing out grades here, but rather looking for stories to pass the time. This collection of stories fits the bill.
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Of the eight stories, I thought the first which is also the title story was the best. It is essentially about two couples who have reunited after many years of the wives being in college together. Both Jewish, one couple has essentially assimilated while the other became more religious. They meet and talk about the good days in college when they were doing drugs, drinking, and engaging in all sorts of other bad habits. The Holocaust becomes a topic of conversation and they quickly evolve the discussion into what they would do if they had to hide Anne Frank. This story appeared in The New Yorker some time ago and it is the strongest of the entire collection in my option. The rest of the stories are quite good as well although I wonder how someone who is not Jewish or even a practicing Jew would enjoy them as there are so many "inside baseball" jokes you need to know. I thought "Camp Sundown" which talks about a Jewish camp for the elderly was remarkable. The senior citizens stage a revolt and the new camp director is powerless to stop it. "Sister Hills" and Free Fruit for Young Widows" are also quite good and touch upon important topics like the Yom Kippur War and territorial disputes. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to read a compelling set of short stories.