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Esquire
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
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The Ministry of Special Cases: A Novel

by Nathan Englander

Bastard Out of Argentina

A review by Tyler Cabot

He's an hijo de puta. The son of a whore. But not just any whore: a Jewish whore. And in case your Hebrew-school teacher didn't tell you what that means, let me explain. It means Kaddish Poznan is done. Cosmically eighty-sixed. The rabbi and community won't touch him, and he thinks God forgot him long ago.

But there's more. Because this is Buenos Aires in 1976 and the state-sponsored suppression of the Dirty War is about to begin. Men fall from buildings. Children fall from the sky. Order is kept via bureaucracy. And soon, despite the biggest, toughest, thickest door a mother can buy, Kaddish Poznan's son, Pato, will vanish. And with that, the frantic search that tears through Nathan Englander's first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, begins.

Priests will be bribed, generals blackmailed, and rabbis beseeched. Faith tried, tested, and buried. All the while, Englander's prose moves along with a tempered ferocity -- simple yet deceptively incisive. In the end, once you've repeatedly imagined Pato's possible torture and death once and again, you'll realize that Englander's book isn't so much about the search for a lost boy. It's about fathers and sons and mothers and faith and community and war and hope and shame.

Yes, that's a lot to pack into 339 pages. But not when a book reads at times with the urgency of a thriller. Not when the main character is an hijo de puta.


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