kaddish.com by Nathan Englander

kaddish.com

Nathan Englander

Sharp, irreverent, hilarious, and wholly irresistible, Nathan Englander shares a tale of a son who makes a diabolical compromise that captures the tensions between tradition and modernity.

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The celebrated Pulitzer finalist and prize-winning author of Dinner at the Center of the Earth and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank delivers his best work yet, a streamlined comic masterpiece about a son’s failure to say Kaddish for his father.
Larry is the secular son in a family of Orthodox Brooklyn Jews.  When his father dies, it’s his responsibility to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for eleven months.  To the horror and dismay of his sister, Larry refuses—imperiling the fate of his father’s soul.  To appease her, Larry hatches an ingenious if cynical plan, hiring a stranger through a website called kaddish.com to recite the prayer and shepherd his father’s soul safely to rest.
Sharp, irreverent, hilarious, and wholly irresistible, Englander’s tale of a son who makes a diabolical compromise ingeniously captures the tensions between tradition and modernity—a book to be devoured in a single sitting whose pleasures and provocations will be savored long after.


Advance Galley Reviews

This is a great meditation on what we owe ourselves and other generations, with humor and great honesty. Larry is a black sheep, straying from his Hasidic family and when his father dies, he does not want a key responsibility in mourning him — saying a prayer every day for a year. So he finds a match on a website to do it for him. He later becomes religious and regret this choice, and tries to track down the site owner. Great connection to short and long term ramifications of choices.

At first I wasn't sure if I would like this book but after about 50 pages or so I was reeled in. Not being Jewish myself I didn't understand a few of the Yiddish words and was unaware of some of the traditions. But I feel the overall concept of youthful rebellion and then returning as we age to practice and observe family values is something many of us can relate to. An interesting take on what it means to be an observant Jew in modern America.

When Larry’s father dies in 1999, sitting shiva at his sister’s house in Memphis is as much as he can cope with; he knows he’ll never manage to pray for his father’s soul for a whole year, as is his duty in Orthodox Judaism. Once he’s back in New York City he’s unlikely to even set foot in a synagogue. Camping out in his nephew’s room, he breaks off from Internet porn long enough to find a website that promises a yeshiva student in Jerusalem will say the Kaddish for his father – for a price. Twenty years later, that slob Larry doesn’t exist anymore; he’s become a rabbi, Shuli, teaching seventh grade at a yeshiva in Brooklyn and married with two kids. When a favorite student loses his father, it brings back all the shame of failing to do his duty by his own father, and Shuli decides to find the people behind kaddish.com and take back the burden he never should have passed off to someone else. The deeper he digs with the help of his technology-minded students, though, the more it seems like kaddish.com might not exist. The novel’s tone is a cross between Shalom Auslander and Dave Eggers, and there’s something haunting about the idea of responsibility coming back to claim you, but a fundamental problem I had with the book was the sharp contrast between Part I (Larry) and Part II (Shuli): I’m not sure I ever fully bought that this was the same character, religiously rehabilitated. And Shuli’s quest to Jerusalem – though it’s a locale described in vivid detail – left me cold. I was surprised to realize that this is actually the first novel I’ve read by Englander; I’ve only ever read his short stories before. I will certainly try more of his books, and would say this is worth a try if you’ve enjoyed classic Philip Roth and recent Jonathan Safran Foer.

This book was not what I expected at all. I was given the opportunity to read in exchange for a review from First to Read. I had hoped to learn more about the Jewish faith, but in the end was still puzzled by al the phrases used, but not explained. I understood the jest of the story and his filling his obligation to this father, but some of the other went right out the window.

There is a lot of loveliness in this book. I really appreciated being immersed in another culture so thoroughly. Growing up in New York, I got to know - and know about - a lot of Jews & ways to be Jewish. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been exposed to some of the issues facing some of this faith’s adherents. Being Jewish in America in the modern era poses some specific challenges that I’m usually unaware of. I’m grateful for the reminders in this book that there are other ways to be than just the ways I know. My thanks to Penguin for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Nathan Englander’s books have been very hit or miss for me, and this one was a hit. I was struck by Shuli’s earnestness as he tries to fix a mistake he made as a younger man. The idea of the Kaddish.com website was also very intriguing and while I was not surprised by what Shuli discovered at the end, my knowing it was going to happen didn’t make it hit any less hard. I do wish we saw more of how Larry transformed into Shuli. I think showing that would have made this a stronger and more fleshed out novel, rather than just what seemed like two separate novellas starring two characters with different traits and temperaments.

This book reminded me of "This is Where I Lefgt You" by Jonathan Tropper. Not only is the subject similar, but the tone and feel are very similar. And, that is a great thing. This book is touching, poignant, and makes you feel for the families involved. I will be buying a copy for my collection.

Kaddish.com is about teshuvah, how righting a wrong can cause other wrongs, and the conflict between tradition and the modern world. Larry left the Orthodox fold before his father's death only to return years later as Shuli. After a dispute with his sister over the need to say kaddish for his father, Larry pays a stranger to take on through kaddish.com. Years later, Larry, now Shuli, teaching in a yeshiva in Brooklyn, tries to help a struggling student. This sets Shuli off to Jerusalem to find the person(s) running kiddish.com so he can retake what he sees as his birthright, obligation, and debt. This moving, humorous, and satirical novel is highly recommended.

The book wasn’t what I expected. Part 1 is what I thought the book would be about, but then came part 2. The time jump threw me off a little bit. Once I got over that part I actually liked the book. While it’s not something I would have normally read I, glad I did.

I received a copy of this ebook from firsttoread.com in exchange for an honest review. This is a short but sort of funny book that I feel like there is a moral I missed somewhere. Largely following Larry as he pays someone to perform his fathers' Kaddish since he is a non-believer, we see the consequences of this choice and everyone it affects. The time jump was a bit of a surprise for me, even though I feel like I knew where the story was going. Overall it feels like the kind of story that is supposed to have a moral message, but I also feel like I'm not certain I know what that message is.

As someone who has had to say Kaddish for 11 months, the premise of the story resonated with me and the execution of the story was very good. The story was fast paced, with realistic characters, and several surprising plot twists. A warning to any religious readers out there - this book contained an offensive/inappropriate scene towards the beginning (with multiple references to it later on) that was probably designed to help show the development of the main character, but in my opinion, the superfluous scene took away from the whole book.

I love the premise of Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander. The author takes us into the world of the very devout orthodox/Hassidic Jew. The struggles a devout Jew would have with the secular world/community in which he lives as well as the yin and yang of the religious/culture of the devout Jew. Englander's hook is how "Larry/Shuli" can justify just about anything based on religious writings/texts and his interpretation--even theft/corruption as he discovered about the website Kaddish.com. A VERY TIMELY story; funny and sad at the same time, because everyone we know can justify just about anything--even politicians.

 


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  • Dinner at the Center of the Earth

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