Jill's Reviews > What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
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's review
Dec 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: short-stories
Read from December 28, 2011 to January 02, 2012

So what do Jews talk about when they talk about Anne Frank – or, perhaps more to the point, when they talk about love?

In the eponymous story, inspired by Ray Carver’s masterpiece, speaking about Anne Frank is laced with love, trust and fear. Ray Carver’s characters revealed how what we don’t say is more important than what we do, and in this pitch-perfect take-off, the same dynamics apply. Only this time, two old friends from yeshiva school unite years later and find themselves grappling with the question after a recreational drug-induced evening. They have taken different paths: one has married a secular Jew and lives in Florida with their teenaged son; the other has become ultra-Orthodox and has moved to Israel, where she has borne ten daughters.

Eventually, the couples end up playing the “Anne Frank game”, a devastating parlor game where each must ask a piercing question: “Who would hide her if another Holocaust occurred? Would you?” The story is exquisitely rendered without a false not, and rips back the curtain on the anxieties that hide behind the vast majority of contemporary Jews today

It is, in this reader’s opinion, the strongest of the stories. Others that are noteworthy are Camp Sundown, a black comedy of a group of eight geriatric and possibly – but not definitely – demented survivors who take vengeance into their own hands when they suspect that one of their own was at the very least a witness to war atrocities and isn’t as he appears. Another, Sister Hills, chronicles the advancing of Israeli settlements with a King Solomon type of bargain that two young mothers make to save one of their children. And in the last story, Free Fruit for Young widows, the theme is clearly about the choices we make in a world that isn’t always rational.

Others are slightly less engrossing: Peep Show and How We Avenged the Blums, which tackle – at their core – the theme of how to be a courageous Jew, with two very different outcomes. Another, Everything I Know About My Family On My Mother’s Side may or may not be autobiographical, but is suffused with emotion and tenderness.

Each of the stories focuses on a pivotal question of what it means to be Jewish, the role that religion (secular or otherwise) plays in the character’s life, and how to trust oneself and others in the face of contemporary temptations and atavistic fears. Some of these stories are six-star in their cleverness and craftsmanship; others just slightly miss. All in all, Englander writes convincingly of not just the Jewish condition but also the human condition.
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message 1: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes The question of who would offer protection when the gestapo comes a'callin' grows more and more relevant here in the USA. It has become dangerous to be a Muslim, particularly a foreign-born Muslim here. I could easily see someone like Santorum, should he gain any position of power, calling forth his inner Torquemada and using the mechanisms of the state to declare anyone who has had or provided an abortion as a terrorist, any who seek same-sex marriage rights as subhuman, and those who support the Occupy folks as deserving of harsh treatment as well. Bye-bye civil rights. Back when I was more politically involved, I had a bit more cause to wonder where I might find a safe place. The answer was frightening then. It still is. The lesson of Anne Frank is of justifiable interest not only to Jews today but to a host of people who are not.

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