email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDictatorDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Note PlayedEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFaking ItFalling ManFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlat Lake in WinterFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzFull DisclosureGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood and GoneGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneHe Counts Their TearsHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHow to Stop TimeHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultŤreJust LifeKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLillian in LoveLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLiíl SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and CynicalLovely Green EyesLowboyLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMade for LoveMagnificenceMaking ScenesMaliceMan and BoyMan in the WoodsManstealing for Fat GirlsMary, MaryMercy StreetMerry Christmas, Alex CrossMiddlesexMischlingMisfortuneMissing PresumedMoby DickMomma and the Meaning of LifeMonsterMonths and SeasonsMr. CommitmentMrs. DallowayMunich AirportMurder BookMurder in ByzantiumMurder in the InnMusic for TorchingMy AbandonmentMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy Life with CorpsesMy Name Is RedMy Sister's KeeperMystery Time StoriesNasty, Short and BrutalNecessary NoiseNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNeuroticaNever Fade AwayNever Let Me GoNew Australian StoriesNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNo One Can Pronounce My NameNo Place to HideNone of the AboveNorth of BeautifulNothing RightNovel About My WifeObjects of My AffectionObservatory MansionsOdd Child OutOdd HoursOddsOld SchoolOn Chesil BeachOn the CouchOnce You Go BackOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne Good TurnOne More WednesdayOne Pill Makes You SmallerOptic Nerve #11Our Souls at NightOver Tumbled GravesPaint It BlackPanicParadiseParadise LodgeParanoiaParty GirlPeculiaPerfect LivesPharmakonPhobicPianoPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlea of InsanityPopCoPoppy ShakespearePower SplitPreaching to the CorpsePrepPresumed InnocentProzac HighwayPumping Up NapoleonPureRachel's HolidayRacing the DevilRadiant CoolRaptors Red SnowRelentlessRemembrance of Things Past, Vol 1: CombrayRescueReturn to IsisReunion at Red Paint BayRevolting YouthRevolutionary RoadRight LivelihoodsRippleRoomRun DownRun for Your LifeSamaritanSand DollarSaturdaySaturday's ChildSay You Are My SisterSay You're One of ThemSay You're SorrySaying It Out LoudSchopenhauer's TelescopeSeason to TasteSecond LifeSee How SmallSeed of the Dogwood TreeSelf-Portrait with BoySerious GirlsSexyShades of BlueShadow BabyShamelessShatteredShooterShort PeopleShutter IslandShy GirlSigned, Mata HariSilencedSilent CruiseSince You AskSister CrazySister MischiefSisterlandSkin DeepSleeping BeautySleepwalkSlip of the KnifeSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSmutSnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSome Thing BlackSometimes It's New YorkSong for EloiseSongs for the MissingSongs Without WordsSounds from the Bell JarSourlandSpeakSpeaking With the AngelSpeed ShrinkingSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkSshhhh!Stealing TimeSteel BreezeStill AliceStill MissingStir-FryStoner & SpazStop PretendingStraight ManStrange FleshStrange Stories for Strange Kids StrayingSummer BlondeSunstrokeSupreme CourtshipSwimmerSwimming Sweet ArrowSwimming to ElbaSwimming with StrangersSworn to SilenceSycamoreSylvia PlathTaking FlightTales of PsychotherapyTalking to AddisonTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe 101 Best Graphic NovelsThe 7 Deadly Sins SamplerThe Abortionist's DaughterThe Abstinence TeacherThe AccidentalThe AdultsThe AlienistThe Almost MoonThe Arctic IncidentThe ArrangementThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Austere AcademyThe Average American MarriageThe AwakeningThe Babes in the WoodThe Bad BeginningThe Beach HouseThe Beast of CretaceaThe Beat Goes OnThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Big GirlsThe Big KissThe Big LoveThe Bird HouseThe Bird WomanThe Birthday RiotsThe Bitch PosseThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe Blue NotebookThe Boat RockerThe Book of JamaicaThe Book of JoeThe Book of LeedsThe Book of LiesThe Book of LiverpoolThe Book of the DeadThe BramblesThe Brass VerdictThe Brimstone JournalsThe Burden of ProofThe Cake HouseThe CallingThe Castle in the ForestThe ChemistThe Children ActThe Children of MenThe Christmas TrainThe Christmas WeddingThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe CorrectionsThe CorrectionsThe Covery and ThenThe Cuckoo's CallingThe CureThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Dark HouseThe Dark RoomThe Darkest Evening of the YearThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Dead Fish MuseumThe Dead HourThe Dead of SummerThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe DepositionThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Disobedience Of The Daughter Of The SunThe Diviner's TaleThe DivinersThe DollmakerThe Double BindThe Dream BearerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dubious Salvation of Jack V.The Dulcimer Boy The Dynamite RoomThe EcstaticThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Elementary ParticlesThe End Of AliceThe End of EverythingThe End of Mr. YThe Erotic EdgeThe Eternity CubeThe Extinction of DesireThe Field of the DogsThe Fig EaterThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Fortunate OnesThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Without a NameThe GirlsThe Good PsychologistThe Great Books Foundation Short Story OmnibusThe Green ParrotThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Gum ThiefThe Guy Not TakenThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe HoursThe Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe IntimatesThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Kings of LondonThe Language of SecretsThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last PhysicianThe Last PrecinctThe Lay of the LandThe Lincoln LawyerThe Little FriendThe Lost MotherThe Love HexagonThe Lovely BonesThe Lover's DictionaryThe Madonnas of Echo ParkThe Madwoman in the AtticThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man of My DreamsThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Master BedroomThe Memory Book The Memory Keeper's DaughterThe Mercy RoomThe Mermaids SingingThe Meursault InvestigationThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MiracleThe Miserable MillThe Missing ProfessorThe Most Dangerous ThingThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe NarrowsThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe Night ListenerThe NixThe Notebook of Lost ThingsThe Obvious ChildThe One With the NewsThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outlaw AlbumThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe People of the VeilThe Perfect GirlThe Philosopher's LoverThe Philosophical PractitionerThe Possession of Mr. CaveThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe Promised LandThe PyramidThe ReaderThe Red HouseThe Red RoomThe Red ThreadThe ReporterThe Reptile RoomThe Resurrection StoneThe ReturnThe Right MistakeThe RoadThe Rule of FourThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Savage GirlThe ScarecrowThe Schopenhauer CureThe Second GirlThe SecretThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Shutter of SnowThe Silence RoomThe SisterThe Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsThe Sky ChangesThe SnowmanThe SongwriterThe Sorrows of an AmericanThe Sound of Broken GlassThe Speed AbaterThe Speed of DarkThe Spinoza ProblemThe Stethoscope CureThe Stone GodsThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe SyndromeThe Tenth CircleThe Tenth JusticeThe Third AngelThe Time Traveler's WifeThe Torn SkirtThe TouristThe Trick Is to Keep BreathingThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Troubled ManThe Undertaker's WifeThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnnamedThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe Usual MistakesThe Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxThe VegetarianThe Virgin BlueThe Virgin CureThe Water ChildrenThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Whole TruthThe Wide WindowThe Wild Assís SkinThe Woman and the ApeThe Woman UpstairsThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsTherapyThere Are No EldersThings You Should KnowThinks...Third Class SuperheroThirty NothingThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadThumbsuckerTimothy Tunny Swallowed a BunnyTina's MouthTiny DeathsTisToby's RoomTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTouching Spirit BearTouchy SubjectsTrailer GirlTransparencyTraumaTreacherous LoveTrespassTriburbiaTucker PeakTuringTwentieth Century EightballTwinmakerTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the DamUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnfitUnholy StoriesUniversal HarvesterUnkemptUnlessUp in FlamesUp in the AirUpstateValenciaVenus DriveVeronika Decides to DieVery ValentineViolet & ClaireVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWakeWastelandWatching the DarkWe Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are OkayWelding with ChildrenWell-Remembered DaysWemberly WorriedWhat Became of UsWhat It Means to Love YouWhat the Birds SeeWhat Waiting Really MeansWhat Was She Thinking? Notes on a ScandalWhat We Don't Know About ChildrenWhat's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?When My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen We Were OrphansWhere We LivedWhite HotWhite HousesWhy Did I EverWidowWild AwakeWild ChildWill@epicqwest.comWillful CreaturesWitWithout TessWolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYou or Someone Like YouYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know MeYour Body is ChangingYour Heart Belongs to MeZapZap
Imagine a country so paranoid that it empowers its police forces, its military, and its paramilitary forces with special powers to arrest, to detain, to torture and to eliminate its own citizens. It is, I'm sure, difficult to imagine, but in order to enjoy this novel you must try. Imagine further living in such a country, with the gnawing fear of arrest for no reason or execution with no trial. Got it?
Now imagine that suddenly your only son is arrested and taken away right under your eyes.
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander is a first novel by the writer who made his literary debut with the award-winning collection of stories, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Set in Buenos Aires in 1976, this historical novel depicts a family headed by an outcast who makes his living defacing Jewish gravestones in order to erase the past for his Jewish clients. Englander writes about the fate of those who disappeared in Argentina in the 1970s, about the fate of the Jews, and by extension the fate of humankind: waiting, waiting for the return of a loved one.
Englander's novel begins, "Jews bury themselves the way they live, crowded together, encroaching on one another's space. The headstones were packed tight, the bodies underneath elbow to elbow and head to toe. Kaddish led Pato through uneven rows over uneven ground on the Benevolent Self side. He cupped his hand over the eye of the flashlight to smother the light. His fingers glowed orange, red in between, as he ran his fist along the face of a stone.
At one anguishing moment in the story a character cries out, "What could that possibly mean?" and that strikes me as a general question to be asked of the series of events depicted in this fascinating novel. I choose "fascinating" with some care and use it to describe not only the events but also the tone or atmosphere of the work. The events are centered by a search – a search for a child who "has been disappeared" by a Kafka like regime which denies the existence of the disappearances. A Jewish mother and father react differently to the disappearance of son Pato, a bookish, bright, secretive, rebellious lad who is, like many of his friends, goofing off on his way through college classes with a joint in one hand and some banned book in the other. Suddenly he is taken from his home along with a couple of his suspicious books, by officials (or unofficial officials) late at night and right after father and son exchange "fuck yous" in a serious argument which concludes with father angrily shouting, "I wish you had never been born." [Be careful what you wish for.]
Frustrating, heart breaking events toss the parents from place to place as they seek some information about their son's whereabouts and condition. Fascinating in part because of the tone – a tone created by Englander's ability to present a story rich with a deep emotional width and depth stretching from the anguish of parents to the uniquely humorous joking and irony of the Yiddish language playfulness of the interactions between the strange array of characters. Priest, Rabbi, Doctor, General, Jewish Leader, all are mendacious and deceptive in their dealings with the Poznans.
The tone of the novel is somewhere between The Fixer and Murphy. The tone emerges from absurd situations in an absurd setting that come to be understood as normal. Lillian and Kaddish Poznan suffer triple misfortunes. First they are Jews in Argentina in the mid 1970s. Second Kaddish is the son of a whore shunned by the local congregation. In fact he may not even exist since by definition, as the Rabbi explains, "there are no Jewish whores." And now the couple's son, Pato, has been arrested. Together and separately they struggle to find meaning in his disappearance–and their country's dirty war–in their own ways, both understanding that the collective forgetting that accompanies los desaparecidos will leave a stain on the country and all in it: "'Everyone's losing senses these days,' Kaddish said. He was truly disappointed. 'When this is all over, it'll be hard to see these handicaps undone.'"
One theme developed in story and image is the idea of what we can know and how knowledge relates to belief. Officials lie but not consistently. Sometimes what they say is true or suggestive. Sometimes they are just brutal and filled with lies. Rumor and speculation is all that is available. The last resort for those who believe that a loved one has been "disappeared" is the Ministry of Special Cases, a Kafka like castle with guards, clerks, priests, files, folders, doors, floors and no answers. People who arrive there are arriving at the front end of a government bureaucracy that has no exit, "bureaucracy in Argentina goes round and round" one character announces.
The audio production has as reader, Arthur Morey, and he does an excellent job of reading. Never boring, always hitting just the right key, Morey presents all the characters with clarity and forcefulness. He does not try to reproduce different voices for different characters; instead he lets the text create those differences in the mind of the listener. This 2007 Random House production is well-paced and provides about ten hours of enjoyable listening.
Betrayal, lies, government bureaucracy gone crazy, double speak -- all of these are part of the novel's backbone which is then fleshed out with human love, commitment, laughter, frantic attempts to act, and tears.
Only in a fictional world? Not at all. While listening to Arthur Morey read The Ministry of Special Cases I was reminded of the non-fictional story of Maher Arrar, the Syrian born Canadian who was kidnapped by the US on his way home to Canada from a trip to Tunis. He was arrested and deported to Syria for interrogation and torture without a thought given to his rights or liberties as a Canadian citizen. Several agencies from Canada and the USA were involved including the RCMP, CSIS, and the CIA. Arrar's family in Canada, like the fictional family of Pato, waited and worried, wondered and anguished as they sought to find answers from the ministry of special cases.
© 2007 Bob Lane
Link: Publisher's web page for book
Bob Lane is a retired teacher of English and Philosophy who is currently a Research Associate in Philosophy at Malaspina University-College in British Columbia, Canada. His Blog Perlocutionary can be found at http://www.boblane.org.