19 April 2010

You are a Runner and I am My Father's Son

#16 The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

When I first borrowed this book from the library, I didn't really know what it was about. I'm trying to think how I even came across this book and became interested in it, but it's not coming to me. I'm pretty sure it's been on my GoodReads list for 2 or 3 years.


The Ministry of Special Cases has many elements to it, but the idea of family is it's strongest theme and most interesting, without a doubt. The book revolves around a Jewish Argentinean family during the country's Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s. During that time, 30,000 people disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. This is, of course, because they disagreed with the government being a military dictatorship.

The Poznan family consists of Kaddish, Lillian and their teenage son, Pato. Kaddish is an outsider both to the Argentinean and Jewish community because he is literally, the son of a whore. His job to deface the gravestones of deceased Jews who had less than noble professions so that their children's reputations aren't ruined. Lillian works for an insurance company and watches as the client pool gets larger as the "war" goes on. People want to protect their families and make sure they're taken care of in case their political leanings make them disappear. However, the war hits home when Pato goes missing. Kaddish and Lillian dedicate themselves to finding their son, their only son.

I loved the family's interactions. If Englander's writing wasn't so strong in describing them, I probably would have lost interest in the book after some time. There was a lot of waiting and getting my hopes up, only to get cut down again. Kaddish and Pato have a fiery relationship and Englander isn't afraid to show how ugly the relationship between a father and his rebellious teenage son can sometimes be. Like any father, Kaddish is trying to protect Pato and do what's best for him, but like any son, Pato is in complete disagreement with his father's ways and ideas. Lillian is the mediator, the rock, and provides stability within the family. Once Pato goes missing, Kaddish and Lillian grow apart because one is the optimist and the other a pessimist (realist?) regarding what has happened to him. Lillian takes the official routes in finding Pato, going to the Ministry of Special Cases and talking to officials, while Kaddish prefers to go underground (which is what his profession taught him to do).

As someone who likes history, I wished that the book contained more facts about the Dirty War. Yet it was also interesting to see it from the Poznan family's standpoint. People didn't know much and Lillian and Kaddish's ordeal showed it perfectly. For them it was like being dropped in the middle of a maze and dared to find their way out. They didn't know where to go, they just tried any and every channel to get answers about Pato's disappearance.

08 April 2010

UPDATE (in the Unsolved Mysteries voice)

I only wrote 1 review for March and I'm pretty disappointed in myself for that. March was a shitty shitty bang bang month of ups and downs and unfortunately the CBR was something I couldn't deal with on top of everything else going on.

But it's April and I'm trying like hell to get back on track.

The list is ever growing. There's probably a couple books I can take down because I've lost interest in them...

1. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón
2. The Angel's Game - also by Zafón
3. Stasiland - Anna Funder
4. For Whom the Bells Tolls - Hemingway
5. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
6. Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (and maybe the rest of the series if I like it)
7. The Ministry of Special Cases - Nathan Englander
8. Open - Andre Agassi
9. The Have-Nots - Katharina Hacker
10. Women in Love - DH Lawrence
11. A Room with a View - EM Forster
12. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene
13. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
14. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
15. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - David Foster Wallace
16. 100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
17. A Tale of Two Cities - Dickens
18. People are Unappealing - Sarah Barron
19. All Quiet on the Western Front - Remarque
20. Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
21. Tender is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
22. On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
23. The Kommandant's Girl - Pam Jenoff
24. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
25. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen & Seth Grahame Smith
26. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
27. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn
28. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
29. Soccernomics - Simon Kuper
30. Soccer Against the Enemy - Simon Kuper
31. City of Thieves - David Benioff
32. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters - Jane Austen & Ben H. Winters
33. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
34. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (possibly the rest of the series)
35. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barberry
36. Eros by Helmut Krausser
37. Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
38. Between Two Seas by Carmine Abate
39. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
40. The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
41. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italio Calvino
42. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
43. Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano
44. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
45. Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
46. All the Names by Jose Saramago
47. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
48. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
49. The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coehlo
50. Death in the Andes by Mario Vargos Llosa
51. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
52. A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
53. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
54. American Music by Jane Mendelsohn
55. One Day by David Nicholls
56. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
57. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer