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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
Stories by Nathan Englander
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, 207 pages
ISBN: 978-0307958709

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 3, 2012

Nathan Englander is a master short story writer. His stories are not only clever, original, and delightful to read, but they raise many issues within a short space that are almost shocking in the sense of "why didn't I think of that?" and "shouldn't this widespread situation be changed?"

This book contains eight tales. Virtually all are about Jews whom he frequently properly pictures in a somewhat negative way because what they are doing is wrong, not because they are Jews or because of Judaism, but because they are human. Thus Jews and non-Jews can enjoy and profit from these tales.

Without giving away or even hinting the startling points that Englander raises, here is what three of the eight stories are about. They give readers a sense of all eight. The first and title tale focuses on the visit of an ultra-Orthodox couple from Israel to their secular Jewish friends who they haven't seen in a couple of decades. We read about the strange behaviors of both couples and about the game the women used to play when they were children and the startling results when they play it now. The second story is about two families of settles in Israel just before and after the war the country fought with Egypt. While the men go to war, the child of one mother becomes deathly ill. Because she is very superstitious and convinced that if she sells her daughter to her neighbor, the angel of death will become confused and not kill her child who is no longer her child, she sells he child to her neighbor. The story tells, movingly, of the contract conditions and what occurs in later years. The last story is about a store owner who gives one patron whatever he asks for for free, and even adds some unasked-for fruits. His son begs his father to explain his behavior. When the boy attains age 13, old enough to understand, he explains why he does what he does. Readers will find it hard to forget the emotions and insights of any of these tales.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of eighteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.
The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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