- Allan Radcliffe
- 23 August 2007
The Ministry of Special Cases
Nathan Englander, the New York-born author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, makes a confident leap from critically acclaimed short story writer to novelist with the audacious The Ministry of Special Cases. It's set in 1970s Buenos Aires during Argentina’s ‘dirty war’, and the novel’s protagonist is world-weary Kaddish, who earns cash altering the names on Jewish gravestones to conceal traces of dubious ancestry. His marriage to insurance clerk Lillian is held together by their devotion to their son, but domestic monotony is about to be shattered by a military coup, which sets the family on the road to the Orwellian bureaucratic nightmare of the title.
Englander’s dark, often blackly funny novel is intricately plotted and compelling, the spare, unflashy prose punctuated by moments of lyrical vibrancy and an occasionally startling turn of phrase. But the author’s detached approach to his characters and the harrowing subject matter means that the story is sometimes difficult to engage with emotionally.