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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In Englander's amazingly taut and ambitious "The Twenty-seventh Man," a clerical error lands earnest, unpublished Pinchas Pelovits in prison with twenty-six writers slated for execution at Stalin's command,
and in the grip of torture Pinchas composes a mini-masterpiece, which he recites in one glorious moment before author and audience are simultaneously annihilated. In "The Gilgul of Park Avenue," a Protestant has a religious awakening in the back of a New York taxi. In the collection's hilarious title story, a Hasidic man incensed by his wife's interminable menstrual cycle gets a dispensation from his rabbi to see a prostitute.
The stories in For the Relief of Unbearable Urges are powerfully inventive and often haunting, steeped in the weight of Jewish history and in the customs of Orthodox life. But it is in the largeness of their spirit-- a spirit that finds in doubt a doorway to faith, that sees in despair a chance for the heart to deepen--and in the wisdom that so prodigiously transcends the author's twenty-eight years, that these stories are truly remarkable. Nathan Englander envisions a group of Polish Jews herded toward a train bound for Auschwitz and in a deft imaginative twist turns them into acrobats tumbling out of harm's way; he takes an elderly wigmaker and makes her, for a single moment, beautiful. Again and again, Englander does what feels impossible: he finds, wherever he looks, a province beyond death's dominion.
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is 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
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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is an astonishment. Whether Nathan Englander is creating the last days of 27 condemned Soviet writers or the first in which a Park Avenue lawyer finds religion (in a taxi, no less), his gift is everywhere in evidence. Englander's specialty is the collision of Jewish law and tradition with secular realities, whether in Brooklyn, Tel Aviv, or Stalinist Russia. In one tale, a wigmaker from an ultra-orthodox Brooklyn enclave journeys into Manhattan for supplies and, more importantly, inspiration--frequenting a newsstand where she pays for the right to flip through forbidden fashion magazines. If all Ruchama wants to do is be beautiful again and momentarily free of communal constraints, others ask only to survive. In "The Tumblers," set in World War II Poland (with a metafictional twist), followers of the Mahmir Rebbe get into a train filled with circus performers rather than into a cattle car. Their only chance is to camouflage themselves as part of the troupe:
Their acceptance as acrobats was a stretch, a first-glance guess, a benefit of the doubt granted by circumstance and only as valuable as their debut would prove. It was an absurd undertaking. But then again, Mendel thought, no more unbelievable than the reality from which they'd escaped, no more unfathomable than the magic of disappearing Jews.Another story, "Reb Kringle," is almost breezy by comparison. Each year, one Brooklynite dreads his holiday job from hell, playing Santa Claus in a Manhattan department store: "There were elves posted on each side of Itzik; one--a humorless, muscular midget--wore a pair of combat boots that gave him the look of elf-at-arms. His companion might have been a twin. He wore black high-tops but had the same vigilant paramilitary demeanor." Itzik can put up with the children's accidents and greed, with his sciatica, and even with a mischief maker's attempt to cut off his beard. But when one boy admits that what he really wants to do is celebrate Hanukkah, "the infamous Reb Santa" loses it. Though this is undoubtedly the collection's lightest piece--proof positive that you have to be a saint to be a Jewish Santa--it is no less piercing an examination of identity and obligation than Englander's more heavyweight entries. --Kerry Fried From the Publisher:
"A debut collection of nine stories that explore the condition of being Jewish, with an often hallucinatory, epigrammatic eloquence that is, as advertised, reminiscent of the fiction of Issac Singer, Saul Bellow, and especially Bernard Malamud. An exemplary fusion of what T.S. Eliot called 'Tradition and Individual Talent,' and a truly remarkable debut."--starred Kirkus Review
"...the questions with which James Joyce and Flannery O'Connor pried at Catholic doctrine [Englander] now aims at Orthodox Judaism."--VLS
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