Does Nathan Englander's Second Book Live Up to the Hype?

Photo: Courtesy of Knopf

The Ministry of Special Cases is Nathan Englander's debut novel, but not his debut work — that would be 2000's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, the whimsical, PEN/Malamud Award–winning short-story collection that put the then-28-year-old yeshiva kid squarely in the literary spotlight. Englander's precocious success has earned his latest book — about a Jewish family in Argentina whose son is "disappeared" by the government during the mid-seventies — the strictest scrutiny, both by fans with high expectations and critics perhaps eager to reassure the public that Englander's just a mortal like the rest of us. —Marc Tracy

Rave: "It is a vibrant, exquisite, quirky and devastating historical novel — and a gift to readers … Written in crisp, unsentimental prose, The Ministry of Special Cases is as heartbreaking a novel as Sophie's Choice." —Jenny Minton, Hartford Courant

Rant: "What happens inside the anxious mind of a 28-year-old writer when his first short story collection unexpectedly receives extraordinary acclaim comparing him to the literary masters Bellow, Malamud and Singer? … It is almost as if [Englander] allowed himself to become eclipsed by his own press clippings, and in this novel the reader sometimes senses a struggle for greatness rather than greatness itself." —Elaine Margolin, Jerusalem Post

Update: A reader has pointed out that Hartford Courant reviewer Jenny Minton, in addition to being "the author of The Early Birds: A Mother's Story for Our Times," is also a former senior editor at Knopf, Englander's publisher. She left before selling her own book in 2004. To, um, Knopf. Shouldn't they say that somewhere?