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Il Ministero dei Casi Speciali

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  2,356 ratings  ·  375 reviews
Argentina, 1976. La "guerra sporca", la junta militare, i primi desaparecidos.
Kaddish Poznan è l'unico fra gli eredi degli appartenenti alla Società dell'Impulso Generoso, che un tempo riuniva prostitute e ruffiani ebrei di Buenos Aires, ad ammettere le proprie origini di hijo de puta. Gli altri discendenti dell'ignominiosa combriccola lo pagano perché penetri di notte nel
Hardcover, Scrittori italiani e stranieri, 392 pages
Published 2007 by Mondadori (first published November 17th 2005)
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Problematic. Englander is an adept, even-handed writer, but not an amazing stylist; worse, I never believed that the story was set in Argentina at all (it would have been better as a Kafka-esque "no place"), and I didn't find it as engaging as I would have hoped. But a good effort nonetheless.

Upon rereading, I was struck by many of the scenes but underwhelmed by the lack of cohesion - the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nate D
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Like Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," this is the tale of hard-boiled Jewish protagonist trying to make sense of a world that is rapidly deteriorating around him. But while Chabon went for affect and genre mimicry, Englander goes for a more soulful approach—the results are both more sober and more satisfying. Yet, Englander's book is far from perfect. There's not a whole lot going on during a long central act, and uninterrupted anguish can be as numbing as riveting. For a book in which ...more
Since I enjoyed Englander's first short-story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (his works have great titles), I decided to try his novel before reading his next collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories.

Either the style of this novel is different from his stories I read (some of which I do remember though it's been awhile), or his style is not conducive to a novel, because I'm not interested in reading beyond the ninety-something pages I did read, thoug
I didnt think I would like this book as much as I did--it got so much press before it came out that I thought it was too good to be true. But, it ended up being a really compelling story about a jewish family in Argentina during the dirty war. Their son gets "disappeared" and they have no one to turn to b/c of their status in society--b/c of their past even the jewish community wont help them. There is not a ton of dialogue, which really creates the mood that everything is being watched and noth ...more
Sep 01, 2007 Michele rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you
As I just finished this, it may take me a while to process my exact thoughts. There isn't a lot of florid description here of Argentina in the 70s or the Jewish community of Buenos Aires at that time, and yet the author still managed to make both these seem very present, despite never being wholly unveiled at any one point.

The protagonist is a pariah, neither at home in his community nor outside of it, and he is deeply troubled and morally defiant about it. A similar struggle marks the more inti
My rating "didn't like it" doesn't mean I think this is not a well-written, perhaps even a brilliant, book. I just couldn't take it. The combination of Jewish humor/style and the horror of the Peron regime in Argentina was simply too much for me. The books is about a hundred kinds of disappearances. It begins with "disappearing" the names of the disreputable Jews in an Argentinian cemetery. This is Kaddish's job. He is a prostitute's son and works chipping away at the names (and therefore family ...more
What's wrong with this book? Two things: (1) It seems like it was designed for people to write papers about it, especially people who are about to travel back in time to 1992; there'sall this stuff about fences and boundaries, and erasing names. Not subtle. Also, (2) every sentence is awkward, and in a way that does not seem deliberate. I'd give the book one star, but one thing about it is impressive: not one positive thing happens in the book; every single event is Something Bad. This is quite ...more
In “The Ministry of Special Cases”, Nathan Englander revisits the Dirty War, the Argentine military junta’s broad and brutal overreaction to a series of kidnaps and murders by leftists. Despite the very particular historical period and the even tighter focus on a single Jewish family, Englander manages somehow in this novel to detail the most deeply personal tragedy but also to evoke larger questions about the bonds of family, of bystanders’ responsibility, of truth and governmental cover-up, of ...more
Everything about this book is largely good, except that it is agony to read. So much pain.
Not an easy read because of the context (torture and disappearances in the aftermath of the Argentinan coupe in the 70's), but I was somewhat prepared as I had read his book of short stories, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (which I highly recommend). After I finished the book I watched a few brief video interviews with the author, Nathan Englander, and one of his comments was that he needs to write a "pressurized novel." His apparent meaning is that, in this case, he spent ten years distil ...more
Pete Young
It must have been heartbreaking all over again for the Argentine mothers of the Disappeared to end their protests back in 2006. There are inevitably several non-fiction works available on this dark period of Argentina’s history but little in the form of fiction other than The Ministry of Special Cases. It must be among the best there is, in English at least, as the focus is on one family as it is torn apart by the casual cruelties of a paranoid government. Kaddish Poznan is a family man in 1976 ...more
Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases introduced me to the history of the disappeared in Argentina in the 1970s. Until reading the book I knew nothing at all about the country or its history, and yet I can’t help feeling I should have known this history, horrific and terrifying as it is.

The novel introduces the military junta, the kidnappings and the murders so slowly and with such hesitance - we first follow a mother, father and son, and then, after the son, Pato, is disappeared, jus
Feb 12, 2012 Chrissie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Tanya
Surprise! Surprise! What life throws at you cannot be understood. There is no logic or reason to what happens. At best, all you can do is try to accommodate yourself to the cards dealt you.

More specifically the book concerned one Jewish family and what happened to them during Argentina's Dirty Wars of the late 70s and early 80s. How do you deal with loss? What happens when husband and wife, who do/u> love each other, respond differently. Love does not necessarily mean two people react in the
Erika Jo
Once again, a hip, young, Jewish, Brooklyn-ish* novelist. I told myself to take it slowly, reading them consecutively would be like lighting one cigarette off the back of another. Don't even get me started on my decision to read an excellent poetry book by the 24-year-old Tao Lin directly following this read (inspiring a "Fuck You, Tao/Tao Lin Jealousy Poem"). I was prompted to read this book from a laudatory review in Poets and Writers of Englander's debut collection of short stories, and the a ...more
Even though I did not love this book in the way I loved Nathan Englander's short story collection, I have to say that there were several things I really liked about this book. First of all, it was a topic that I am familiar with, even though reading non-fiction accounts of this period in Argentina's history has always been too much for me emotionally. I owe Mr. Englander respect for the fact that he got me to read a novel about this (and pretty quickly!) without once breaking down. In addition t ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I probably did not appreciate this book in the fullest manner because I did not have a clear understanding of the background in Argentina during the 70s and 80s when the Junta took charge. Nevertheless, this extraordinary look at a couple facing the loss of its only son is universal in scope. Sometimes black, sometimes very touching, the narrative reveals the hopelessness of finding the "disappeared." The indomitable spirit of Lilian and the unending schemes of her husband Kaddish come together ...more
I wanted to like this book more. Really. The setting of the book -- the "dirty war" in Argentina, when so many young people disappeared, seemed particularly interesting. But I found it a bit too heavy handed for me. The main character is engaged, for example, of erasing the sordid past of the Jewish communty (though it's a past that he, alone, seeks to remember). Plus his name, Kaddish, is the Jewish prayer for remembering the dead. Then his son is "disappeared" by the government, effectively er ...more
A pretty good book on an interesting topic (Argentina's "Dirty War") and one family's emotional journey through it, the author does a great job of developing the characters' emotional states while keeping the overall tone very light-hearted. But looking back, the primary action takes place in the last 1/3 of the book and I can't really remember much what took place leading up to that other than just broad development.

All in all a good read that turns great when the story finally picks up during
Edgy and miserable and pathetic and frustrating and angry and sad and hopeless. No, I'm not referring to my son, thanks for asking. Kaddish is the brute in question, and I would personally give him all my stars—were such a thang possible—for entertaining me through to the end. I found Kaddish highly attractive and compelling in that if-you-weren't-so-exotic-you-would-be-shit-ugly kind of way. Good job, Mr. Englander. I would elaborate more but I have to go pee.
Kaddish has always been known as The Son of a Whore, but when hired by the right influential people, he's willing to forget his past and use his talents to erase others' similarly spotty histories. But one day, when Pato, Kaddish's own son, goes missing, Kaddish learns how terrible it truly is for a name to disappear.
Originally, I loved this book. The story of a quirky Jewish family set in Buenos Aires was like nothing I had ever read before. Kaddish's somewhat bizarre job of chipping family nam
Nate Kowal
I think this book wasn't for me.

A book of Englander's short fiction, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, had me seeking out a novel by Englander. I wanted to see him weave a longer tale and wondered when it would come about. Instead I stumbled upon a novel he had written in 2007 - this one.

First the story. Kaddish and Lillian live in Argentina with their son Pato. They loose their son to the government by means of kidnapping. They risk everything to try and get him back. What follo
I have a hard time summing this one up. Heavy topic --the disappearances that occurred under the different military regimes that governed Argentina in the 50s and 60s. Add to that father-son conflict based on intellectual vs blue collar views of life, and a man who lives on the fringes of the fringe of society. Plus the silent undercurrent of the Holocaust. Not a happy book - although that is made obvious at the beginning when the protagonist is named Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning).

Kevin Johnson
This book uses a lot of comic overtones to tell a tragic story. Argentina's dirty war is a poltical era that involved hundreds of young students to be labelled as radicals and mysteriously disappeared. This novel tells one such story and the family involved is introduced to us with portraits that are completely drawn with a sense of lively humor. I didn't find this distracting as I believed this served to make the characters all the more centered in the real world. A completely engaging novel wi ...more
This beautifully written and deeply humanist tale focuses upon a Jewish family in Argentina whose son is one of the estimated 30,000 citizens who are "disappeared" -- snatched and killed by the junta government in what is now known as "The Dirty War." But in a sense, that modern political spasm is simply a backdrop for the real purpose of the book, a fabulist's exploration of family, love, memory, and faith among a very specialized set of outcast Jews. Kaddish Posnan (yes, that's his name, just ...more
Fascinating piece of fiction about the Dirty War in Argentina. Descriptions of Buenos Aires incite wanderlust, despite the gritty subject matter. Also interesting historical novel about Jews in Argentina. Loved it.
This a marvellous, gripping, disturbing and very well written novel of the horrors of the dirty wars in Argentina and the fate of the disappeared and their families. The story is that of a Jewish family outcast by many and struggling to deal with both their differences and their similarities with all around. Matters of race, religion, power and privilege run through every page. Despite the desperate circumstances and intense grief that animate the entire novel there is humour, wit and a real gra ...more
Although not fast paced, a semi-confusing opening, and a story lacking in action, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The conversations between the characters, emotions felt, and thoughts shared within the novel by them, all felt real and true to me. It is a journey through a real familys' experience, they emerge on the other side. Though it requires patience, it is worth it. My favorite was the end, in all of its openendedness, that left the reader stranded between the two worlds of hope an ...more
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Frank O'Connor Prize 1 4 Oct 14, 2012 02:40PM  
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Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970. He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1999. The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important write ...more
More about Nathan Englander...
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank For the Relief of Unbearable Urges The Twenty-seventh Man: A Short Story from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges The Tumblers: A Short Story from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories

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