Strange Times to Be a Jew

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
By Michael Chabon
HarperCollins. 432 pages. $26.95.

There’s no better way to describe Michael Chabon – who’s most famous for his monumental, Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – than as a literary superhero. He may not have X-ray vision or the ability to bend iron bars with his hands, but his gifts as a wordsmith are no less extraordinary or exuberant. In a new book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Chabon flexes his hypertrophied storytelling muscles once again, and puts on a dazzling show. (more…)

The Art of Disappearing

May 15, 2007 | ,

The Ministry of Special Cases
By Nathan Englander
352 pages. Knopf. $25.

In an extraordinary debut collection of short stories, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander demonstrated a knack for cooking up narrative premises, whether realistic or fantastic, that were spiced with symbolic or religious intensity. “The Gilgul of Park Avenue,” for one example, concerns a non-Jew, Charles, who suddenly, inexplicably, realizes that he is “the bearer of a Jewish soul.” Englander handles this supernatural conceit adroitly, keeping it firmly grounded in the tactile details of Charles’ life (should he, or should he not, eat the creamed chicken?), so that ultimately the story manages to speak to the thorniest dilemmas of Jewish identity in our time. What, after all, does it mean to possess a Jewish soul?

Given his previous works’ settings, it may surprise Englander’s fans that his highly anticipated first novel takes place not among the Hasids of New York or Jerusalem, but during Argentina’s Dirty War, when thousands of activists and students were “disappeared”—abducted, tortured, and often killed by a brutal government, without legal process or justification. (more…)