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The Ministry of Special Cases

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,731 Ratings  ·  420 Reviews
From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, Nathan Englander's debut novel The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina's Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won't accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a commu ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Vintage (first published November 17th 2005)
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May 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-ground
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.
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nate D
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Saleh MoonWalker
Englander writes with increasing power and authority in the second half of his book; he probes deeper and deeper, looking at what absence means, reading the shadow letters on history's curtain.
Sep 27, 2013 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Stuart Chambers
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I'm really smiling, I finished this book HUGELY satisfied and very pleasantly surprised, I have never read anything by this author but I like edgy and brutal and I like Jewish humour and I salute real people trying to make good in the face of bad days. Its life. I picked up the book at a garage sale and the very same evening found myself completely immersed and happily page turning, there really isn't a word out of place, the story is brutal but it pulls you in, the style is exquisite and the di ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everything about this book is largely good, except that it is agony to read. So much pain.
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pete Young
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erika Jo
Jun 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Nov 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moet weer veel aan dit boek denken nu maxima koningin wordt.
Review: The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander. 3.5★'s 09/09/2017

The book started out slow for the first seventy five pages and I wasn’t to sure what genre I was reading. The novel was well written, I enjoyed the characters but for quite a while I kept thinking, “What a strange story” but I couldn’t put it down. The more I read the more I wanted to read. I don’t know why I was so captivated but the pages kept turning. The only thing I didn’t like was the repetitive scenes. I think the
This is an uneasy book about a terrible subject. So why read it?
This is what I asked myself at the bottom of page 1 and again more urgently around 30 pages in.
ME is such a skillful writer that it soon became evident that I could not stop and that i had bonded with , like them or not, the rough characters that were going to break my heart.
Dates are given, names spelled out, but terror is out of time and the specific tragedies that befall those in its trajectory are universal. A study in the nuanc
Maya Lang
Nathan Englander is a supremely talented writer whose considerable gifts are not done justice here. This book stumbles. On one hand, I felt what Englander was trying to do. Set in Buenos Aires in 1976, at the outset of Argentina's "Dirty War," this novel aims for comic turns through political terror to highlight the absurd, much in the way of Gogol or Kafka or Vonnegut. You feel this from the very first page: our protagonist, Kaddish, in a graveyard (ha!), is a kind of Yiddish Yorick. The writin ...more
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un libro spesso, denso. Un punto di vista particolarissimo sulla dittatura argentina, quello di una famiglia ebrea e reietta anche nella sua stessa comunità. La storia è lì, esattamente come dovrebbe essere: senza un finale. Perché tanti, troppi esseri umani, in questa Storia, non hanno potuto mettere fine alla loro vita con un punto. Tanti, troppi - proprio come Pato - non sono né vivi né morti.
Il forte e il debole, la realtà e la pazzia: reazioni diverse, stessa famiglia. Quanto carattere, qua
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
E io che pensavo che il primo libro di racconti di questo autore fosse triste, mi sono dovuta ricredere parecchio considerato quanto sia tragico questo. La vita di una famiglia ebrea a Buenos Aires nel 1976. Padre, madre e figlio universitario, e a questo punto non credo di dover aggiungere niente altro. Tra situazioni paradossali, che parecchi hanno definito kafkiane, l'autore scrive una storia che spesso tocca vertici assurdi, ma che in qualche modo si dipana in modo omogeneo fino al finale, c ...more
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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...
“Harder than waking from a nightmare was trying to wake herself into one.” 6 likes
“Čovjekovo pravo biće pokazuje se u tri slučaja. Kad je posrijedi novac, kad govori u srdžbi i kad je pijan.” 1 likes
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