ranters and ravers

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

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?

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