Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Review of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
Nathan Englander writes about families with insight and great sensitivity. He digs behind the surface dialog to reveal what is hiding beneath. In the title story—“What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank”—a wife asks her husband if he would save her in the Holocaust, if he would risk his own life to hide her in the attic. He says yes, but, in a feat of miraculous writing, we all know the true answer is no. The second story, “Sister Hills,” is a kind of epic allegory covering decades that challenges deep tenets of the Jewish faith. In “Peep Show,” a successful lawyer faces down his hidden guilt about suppressing his Jewishness in favor of a secular life. “Everything I Know about My Family on My Mother’s Side” is uniquely structured as a series of sixty-three numbered paragraphs, intermingling family lore with the narrator’s personal struggle to form meaningful relationships. Perhaps the best story is the last one, “Free Fruit for Young Widows,” in which a father teaches his son about moral ambiguity and unconditional forgiveness. Judaism is a big part of these stories, as are family relationships and the theme of individual responsibility. This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking collection by a masterful story teller.