Monday 20 July 2009

Writing fast

Monday morning, a crazy week ahead, the entire newsletter to do from start to finish, (so am perversely writing this blog instead). It should be a record, especially as it is a Jubilee Issue, permission granted by the Board to splurge on full colour for the cover, first time ever in the 50 years of the newsletter.

This week-end, read Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases - an American writing completely believably about Argentina's disappeared and their families. (When an Argentinian aunt visited us in the early 80's, I asked her about those times: she shut me up with a single word - I almost looked over my shoulder, in my own home in safe New Zealand.)

The writer has succeeded in absenting himself from his book - you never think of him, in itself an achievement. The characters are absorbing and heart-rendingly funny, particularly if you are familiar with the inflections and rhythm of Yiddish.

At first the style seemed all magical realism: a graveyard digger named Kaddish, and his son Pato are in a Jewish cemetery at midnight, chipping off names from gravestones by torchlight, at the request of the wealthy doctors and lawyers whose parents were pimps and whores in a Jewish Mafia.

Slowly, the reader realises that this is for real. When Pato disappears without warning, he is suddenly completely absent from the novel, an eerie silence settles over him. His parents become isolated as if infected with the plague.

Kaddish, himself the son of a saintly whore from Poland, wistfully thinks back to when the older generation was alive - they would have had the nous to deal with the junta's murderous craziness. Kaddish is a great character, a failure by society's standards, by his loving wife's standards, by his own. And yet, when he lies down to sleep on the bench of the abandoned synagogue, and covers himself with the Torah curtain, he is the only person in touch with the truth.

PS Have just discovered a BBC interview with the author -

1 comment:

Bill said...

Yay! Navina's back to writing her blog!
Hope things are well and the novel is progressing (and poetry?).