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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,877 ratings  ·  281 reviews
A work of stunning authority and imagination - a book that is as wondrous and joyful as it is wrenchingly sad, and that heralds the arrival of a profoundly gifted new storyteller.

Already sold in eight countries around the world, these nine energized, irreverent stories from Nathan Englander introduce an astonishing new talent.

In Englander's amazingly taut and ambitious "T
Paperback, 205 pages
Published March 21st 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  2,877 ratings  ·  281 reviews

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Stef Smulders
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
A mixed bag. The first two stories are full of black absurd humor. The other stories often start out interesting but then lose pace. The best one for me was Reunion.
Jan Rice
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Meeting a new author via short stories isn't ideal for me. So on reading the first two in this collection I thought I was in for a slog. First, a group martyred by Stalin, and second, one martyred by Nazis. Terrible--but I didn't know them well enough to feel it in my bones. On the other hand maybe I hadn't warmed sufficiently to the author to let him make me feel. The next story is about this charming but shallow manic-depressive screw-up who's always complaining it isn't his fault: things are ...more
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A solid inaugural book of short stories, all pieces written with Jewish orthodoxy as the centerpiece. I really like how Englander approached this subject matter from so many different angles; using horror and humor to bring home a point. The author isn't just taking the piss on his heritage, he's pointing his quill at all of humanity. "The Gilgul of Park Avenue" was a standout in the collection; the writing here was especially crisp and the four very distinct charcters in the story have their ow ...more
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
3.5 stars - A well written selection of dark and sometimes funny stories mostly revolving around Orthodox Jewish culture. Englander has created an imaginative and fascinating collection of characters. Yet they remained "characters" - and did not come alive for me. I really liked Englander's Ministry of Special Cases and will certainly read more of his work. ...more
John Jeffire
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This guy's first book? Damn, I'm jealous. If you only read two of these stories, I recommend "The Twenty-seventh Man" and "The Tumblers." These stories are remarkable for their historical sense of authenticity. I believe in the characters Bretzky and Zunser and Korinsky, and I am fully in emotional harmony with the idiot savant Pelovitz. Englander said of this story that the rounding up of 26 Yiddish authors did occur and he has take the liberty to bring this tale to life and add in Pelovitz to ...more
Paul Cockeram
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nathan Englander publishes only a couple of story collections per decade. The fact that he is an international darling of Jewish literature suggests that his work makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. And there is indeed a richness and complexity to these stories that bears out the time and labor Englander apparently put into them. Even the order of the pieces throughout the collection suggests careful deliberation, with significant themes and motifs carrying through from one story to t ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Revised: 4/21/2015

Readers of Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges may find that some/most of the stories are linked by the role that luck plays in our lives and by our amazing uses of creative powers to handle what feels "unbearable" and by the lengths to which we may go to stop being or feeling victimized. However, mortification (whether hidden or in plain view) is, I maintain, what makes all of the stories in the collection a gathering of distant cousins, if not close relative
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
The stories here aren't character driven as much as they are idea driven. Some of the ideas are brilliant. The setting is always deeply Jewish, but I think those who don't have an understanding of Orthodox Jewish culture can still strongly identify with the lives of the people portrayed. Englander owes a deep debt to Bernard Malamud in a good way. He may well be his worthy successor.

These stories often begin with a bang. Englander doesn't waste time on setting. Some of these stories had me smil
Diane S ☔
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
There is no question that this author can write. Maybe I was a bit handicapped because I know and understand even less about the orthodox Jews. The first two stories were a bit dark but humorous at the same time, as if the author knows you can only have so much darkness before light. The rest of the books and the stories were a little easier, I particularly liked the story, "The Wig". ...more
Sep 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
OK I'll say it: you've GOT to read this. But let me qualify that by mentioning that you might not get it if you're not (sigh) Jewish. I think it was Will Smith who said, "Take it from me, gentiles just don't understand." In spite of the Semitic tag, Nathan Englander is as good a young writer as any I can think of. I hope his debut novel which just came out is as good as this. Tremendous short fiction. ...more
A great collection of short stories revolving around aspects of Jewish life. Each main character and each story offers a different perspective. The reader gets the opportunity to see through the eyes of a rabbi, young people, elderly people, the suffering and the crazy. I loved the variety this book offered, the different settings, different walks of life and most of all the humor. This is my first book by Nathan Englander and will not be my last!

4.5 stars
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories gives a peek into the world of the Hasadim, a group that never fails to fascinate me. It is for the most part arranged chronologically, from the Stalinist purges of Yiddish authors to what seems to be an autobiographical account of surviving a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Beautifully written and sometimes really devastating.
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Another splendid collection of Short stories, reading these is like taking a heavenly bath in great writing.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story from this collection that stands out is The Tumblers. How a writer can zip back and forth from imminent cataclysm to absurd farce is nothing short of amazing. Who knew that the chasm between Jews who brush off religious rituals and those who live by them could be so entertaining? Nathan Englander knows the Jewish people intimately; their ancient history, their tragedy, and their human foibles.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyable. As with any collection, some were much stronger than others. Englander is has carved out a niche for himself as a modern Jewish storyteller and I’m here for it.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was beautiful. Must. Read. More. Englander.
Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Somehow I did not realize this was a collection of short stories and I wasn't really in the mood. They are not bad stories, but are all focused on Orthodox Jews (something about which I don't know a whole lot). It holds together well enough as a collection and some are better than others; I have each story noted below.

The Twenty-seventh Man
A story about 27 men in holding before execution in Stalin Russia. The focus is on the last man added to the list (the 27th) as an almost after thought. He se
Feb 05, 2010 rated it liked it
The reviews (three pages of them inside the book itself) are not so much positive as they are rapturous -- and I just don't get it. In most of these stories, nothing happens. Lots and lots of physical description and carefully wrought details and painstaking scene-setting ... and virtually no there, there. It's Fabergé fiction, literary short stories as netsuke. I don't know why I continue to be shocked that so much of the fiction that is rewarded today (with publication, with major reviews, wit ...more
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
strong stories with Jewishness as their theme. The first one has a bunch of writers rounded up and jailed in Stalin's Russia, and in the second a group of Jews in WW2 Germany somehow board the wrong train (they are supposed to be heading off to the death camps) and are mistaken for tumblers. Humour offsets the impending horror and allows you (the reader) to breathe and think, thus underlining the grim realities to come. Others stories are more contemporary, one set in a terrorised Jerusalem wher ...more
Jun 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredible collection of short stories about Jews. The first one didn't just make me cry - I sobbed. All of the stories were good, several were splendid and heart-wrenching. Each one felt like a tiny novel rather than a short story.

Each story somehow related to my own history (I am the child of a father who was a concentration camp inmate and a mother who was a first generation new yorker brought up on the lower east side of Manhattan whose first language was yiddish). I'm sure that w
Ann Doherty
Jul 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Some of the stories are very funny, especially the one about the middle-aged New York businessman who discovers his Jewish soul in a taxi cab. And the one about the wigmaker. Ludicrous set-ups, yet very poignant and (I found) easy to relate to and universal. The first two, about Russians being deported to concentration camps, are gut wrenching. The last one about living in Israel and surviving a bomb attack was the only one I didn't like, the style and sentiments seemed a bit contrived, even tho ...more
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This collection of beautifully written short stories surprised me. Some are quite humorous ("Reb Kringle" being my favorite of these), with a droll sensibility pervading the majority. However, three of the stories are deadly serious, with subject matter ranging from the horrors of WWII to the modern-day prevalence of terrorism in Jerusalem.I expect to be haunted by "The Tumblers" for some time to come, especially by the heart-breaking final paragraph. ...more
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
englander reads like a much older person from a much older time. the picture on the back of the book didn't correspond, for me, with the words inside it. which is, i think, what made how much i enjoyed this collection such a pleasant surprise. favorite stories: the tumblers, the wig, the gilgul of park avenue, the last one way, in this way we are wise. ...more
May 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm really disappointed in this book after reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank which I loved. The stories in this started off good but got progressively worse until I was just reading the book to finish it without any enjoyment. It is really cool to see how far Englander's writing has come though. ...more
Jan 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first couple of stories are brilliant, but I got less enthusiastic as the book went on.
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
the chelm story alone makes this a classic and brilliant collection, and the rest are great, too.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Impressive unpacking of often hidden stories. Compelling, rich, unexpected.
Shai Sachs
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Nathan Englander's short story collection is a look at modern Judaism across a variety of characters, and spanning multiple continents, with a multitude of sobering endings - but always through the lens of reincarnation and rebirth.

Naturally, it is the most exceptional story, The Gilgul, which clarifies this focus on the soul. In this story, a perfectly average middle-aged WASP discovers one evening that he is the bearer of a Jewish soul. And therefore he undertakes the oddest sort of conversion
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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

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