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The Pulitzer finalist delivers his best work yet a brilliant streamlined comic novel reminiscent of early Philip Roth and of his own most masterful stories about a son's failure to say Kaddish for his fatherLarry is an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews When his father dies it is his responsibility as the surviving son to recite the Kaddish the Jewish prayer for the dead every day for eleven months To the horror and dismay of his mother and sisters Larry refuses thus imperiling the fate of his father's soul To appease them and in penance for failing to mourn his father correctly he hatches an ingenious if cynical plan hiring a stranger through a website called kaddishcom to recite the daily prayer and shepherd his father's soul safely to restThis is Nathan Englander's freshest and funniest work to date a satire that touches lightly and with unforgettable humor on the conflict between religious and secular worlds and the hypocrisies that run through both A novel about atonement; about spiritual redemption; and about the soul sickening temptations of the internet which like God is everywhere

10 thoughts on “Kaddishcom

  1. says:

    “Kaddishcom” is a novel but its first part serves as another reminder of Nathan Englander’s extraordinary skill as a short story writer Set 20 years before the rest of the book it describes a contentious family gathering following a patriarch’s death Larry — the black sheep — has come from Brooklyn to stay with his Orthodox sister in Memphis as they sit shiva Despite hearing the “uiet muttering stream of well wishers” he feels harshly appraised “I want them not to judge me just because I left their stupid world” he hisses at his sister in the kitchen These two siblings lash out at each other with words sharpened by grief Larry insists he be allowed to mourn in his own way His sister upbraids him for thoughtlessly ignoring their traditions “It’s no reason to treat me like a freak” he cries “They’re just stupid rules”But of course they’re not just stupid rules — not to his sister and not even to Larry One of the fascinating points Englander explores in “kaddishcom” is the way ardent followers and angry apostates both regard religious tradition with awe — but from different sides “Sometimes the rejection is a way to let people know that the thing we reject truly matters” Larry says much later “It is its own kind of faith even if it’s the opposite of faith”Larry and his sister may lose control but Englander To read the rest of this review go to The Washington Posthttpswwwwashingtonpostcomentert

  2. says:

    People compare Nathan Englander to Philip Roth and it's a fair comparison only in that they are both Jewish and they both have a talent for writing scenes that include masturbation But Roth lived at a time when he felt his goals included defining for his readers what it meant to be a secular American Jew with the emphasis on American His characters are Jewish yes but in a mostly secular way where the obligation and identity are sublimated and where their greater goal as characters is to be as mainstream American as possible Roth lived through a time when redlining was still an open secret and when people went out of their way to not hire Jews or allow them in their clubs; his novels worked on one level to unmask the absurdity that Jewish Americans were different from any other AmericansEnglander is a couple of generations younger than Roth The goal of his Jewish characters feels different They are thinking about the downside of being as secular and as assimilated as possible Englander makes his characters think deeply about their faith than Roth does They think about the weight of obligation they have to remain Jews and to carry forward faith traditions intact from one generation to the next In kaddishcom the protagonist Larry seems at first as if he has wandered out of a Roth novel He has left his traditions behind He is an atheist and a sensualist When his father dies he refuses to take on the obligation that would fall on him traditionally were he observant of reciting the Kaddish The refusal catapults him into a very different direction for his life than what he'd planned Most of the novel is an exploration of what it might be like for an American Jew to turn away from mainstream American life and to return to an Orthodox way of life And it is like nothing Roth ever wrote because from about page 45 on it immerses the reader in the rhythms of Orthodox Jewish traditions where the characters are people of deep faith who believe for instance that their prayers have conseuences in the afterlife and who observe traditions with well religious intensity There is a thread of the surreal here that reminds me of Englander's first story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and there is also a touch of the comic but on the whole I experienced the novel as a serious reflection on what it means to be an observant Jew in the modern world

  3. says:

    I’ve read many short stories by Nathan Englander but this is the first novel I’ve read by him When the story begins we learn that Larry’s father has just died He’s at his sisters house in Memphis Tennessee ‘having’ to sit shivah when the story begins Larry’s sister Dina is driving him insane She’s ruthless about the ancient rituals They must be observed correctly according to Jewish law Larry Dina and their family grew up in an ultra orthodox Jewish home in Royal Hills Brooklyn Larry had turned away from the strict orthodox observances years ago very similar to Nathan Englander himself I wanted to slap Dina for using profanity force guilt and righteous indignation onto LarryDina was a ‘bitch’ She insisted her younger brother grow up he was 30 and plenty grown up and take responsibility for the Jewish lawsAccording to Dina there was only one way to morn the dead Too bad Dina wasn’t born male she could have had the responsibility and pleasure of following the perfect traditional laws in Judaism But the responsibility belongs to the male son NO WAY does Larry want to say the Kaddish every day for 11months Larry refuses He loves his father and wants to morn his father’s death his own damn way I was cheering him on When a Rabbi tells Larry that he could pass his responsibility off to a proxy to recite the Kaddish 3times a day every day for those 11 months he turns to a website Kaddishcom a Jewish website to find the perfect replacement a Talmudic student ‘Chemi’ in Jerusalem Jewish law allows an emissary can be hired The story takes a huge leap into the future Larry repents what he has done Guilt and regret overtake him twenty years later?but even than guilt itself Larry really loved his father He begins seeking Jewish spiritualityand religious connections We are taken on a fascinating ethnical journey We witness Larry’s religious transformation He changes his name to Shuli LarryShuli leaves his wife bless her and children He flies from his now home in Brooklyn where he’s been a professor rabbi of Hebrew studies to Jerusalem to meet Chemi Chemi is Shuli’s guide for religious transformationThe book makes many references to Biblical religious texts and Talmudic laws I can’t imagine much of this being understood by non Jews but the heart of the issue inuiry into Jewish Orthodox believers vs secular non Jewish believes everyone can understand Believe or not believe?Compassion for each other’s Jewish points of view and lifestyle choices for a modern day Jew is what I most thought about I’ve seen some nasty ugly Jewish righteousness from the ultra Orthodox community Just sayin This book has a satire edge to it but there’s some deep thought going on We tap into the Jewish faith prayers lawsand beliefs An inuiry about the role of religious prayer for a modern American Jew is at the heart of the matter As for style Nathan’s writingI found it mostly effective flaws in storytelling development but with a clear purpose Under all the satireish scenes Nathan’s prose shines with love Religious Jews vs non religious Jews AS IN LETS TALK ABOUT THIS ISSUE is a great book choice for Jewish book clubs Jews ‘really’ hearing each other’s point of view in my opinion and experience is a challenge Beware haThere is a sex scene with a fish I think it was suppose to be funny I was a little sueamish with the visual Nathan created I admit my emotions were ‘triggered’ several times I felt a range of emotions from anger laughter to warmth love and everything in betweenOverall This tongue n cheek novel was insightful with sparking compelling dialogue

  4. says:

    Oy Where to begin? I’m of conflicting opinions when it comes to reviewing Nathan Englander’s newest work kaddishcom I want to give it four stars because I really like the author and the way he writes But for almost all of the second half I felt mostly annoyed and even a bit contemptuous of the main character Larry turned Shuley I came to kaddishcom having read Englander’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank which I absolutely loved I received the hard copy book kaddishcom recently at a book fair where I also got to share a few words with the author both during the A and when he autographed my book So I already felt connected upon starting kaddishcom I will rate the book ⭐️⭐️⭐️12 And the connection goes even deeper The book is a Jewish story about Larry who grows up in an Orthodox community in Brooklyn shrugs off his Orthodox ways to become a thoroughly secular albeit somewhat lost adult This becomes an issue in his family of origin when he goes to his father’s funeral at his religious sister Dina’s house in Memphis Tennessee where she lives with her family among her ultra Orthodox community and where his now deceased father had also lived Larry is forced to sit shiva and if you don’t know what that is I believe you will need to google a lot in the story in a very strictly religious way I had no problem whatsoever understanding every Jewish reference throughout the book and there were many Why? Because I am Jewish and though my observance is cultural than religious I am well schooled in the three main denominations of the religion Orthodox Conservative my upbringing and Reform Truth be told I’m rather turned off by the strict conservatism of the Orthodox both as a woman and as a citizen of the world with a plethora of worldly pursuits and interests On the other hand there is always an other hand in Judaism there are aspects of being an Orthodox Jewish person that I not only appreciate but wish I had of in my life One is the “certainty” of spiritual belief Another is the way the community gathers round at times of joy and sorrow as we see in the case of Dina’s Orthodox friends being there with food comfort and any kind of help they can provide for the grieving family Larry loved his father profoundly but when his sister insisted that he must take on the responsibility the “mitzvah” of saying Kaddish the prayer of remembrance for the dead 8 times daily for the next 11 months Larry rejects it out of hand but at the same time feels a great deal of guilt because the religion says that his father’s soul will not be allowed in Gan Eden in the world to come unless the son says Kaddish for the father for a year Not only did his sister insist on this she can’t do it because as she tells Larry she can’t She’s a girl to which he replies one you’re a woman and two fix your religion but he knows it’s what his father wanted A compromise is found in which Larry finds an online religious community in Israel who will say Kaddish for the deceased by proxy The rabbi says this is actually “Halachic” and the plans are made Up to this point I’d been enjoying the book A year later Larry receives an envelope postmarked from Jerusalem in which Chemi the proxy tells him what an honor it was being his emissary mourning the dead in his name There was even a photo of Chemi taken from behind as he sits at a table studying a Jewish text looking very pious This moved Larry to tears which turned into weeping for his father than he ever had since his death And then the weeping Larry realized was no longer for his father but rather for his own lost self It was at this point on page 44 that the story takes a sharp hairpin turn It is now two decades later and Larry has long since become Shuli wearing peyes on the sides of his head a black hat tzit tzit showing from beneath his white shirt resting against his black trousers and the rest of the garb of the ultra Orthodox He is in every way what’s referred to as a ba'al teshuvah one who has returned to the fold He has a wife two children and he has returned to his childhood home of Royal Hills Brooklyn where he is a teacher at the very Yehiva he had attended as a child In the two decades since he was Larry he completely shrugged off his secular ways and belief After all it was just 40 pages back when Larry argues with his sister referring to the religious restrictions by saying such things as “They’re just stupid rules” and “These southern Memphis Gracelandian Jews” and “Pure would mean that they’d all still be here if you turned not kosher or anti Israel Or if you were suddenly gay” In other words Larry made a complete 360 degree turn and never looks back Well that’s not exactly true He never really gets over the guilt that he had not been the one to say Kaddish for his father all those years ago He gets it into his mind that if he can find that proxy Chemi he could get the “legal” agreement back and then all would be well It is in this uest that Shuli persists throughout the rest of the novel He travels to Israel despite the fact that he and his wife don’t have the funds map in hand to retrace the location of the yeshiva where he assumes Chemi can still be found The pursuit defies belief and reason that he could actually find the exact place and person That after 20 years Chemi would still be there or that this whole bargain was for real or that it even mattered well this truly was the thinking of a “meshugenah” For me Shuli’s situation as the story progressed became increasingly ridiculous I didn’t want Larry to become Shuli I didn’t want the strict Orthodoxy to take over his life I wanted him to find himself but in a less radical way I recognize that Englander knew what he was doing Perhaps he even wrote with tongue in cheek He grew up as a religious Jew and is now a secular one He had his reasons There was one aspect of Shuli that I liked I did like the way he maintained something of his egalitarian thinking in that he and his wife decided she would do the studying while he worked to make money the opposite of the typical arrangement for many Orthodox couples because after all she was the intelligent of the two of them Near the end of the book the story takes another hairpin turn if not uite so sharp as the first one in a way perhaps that allows for the two sides of ShuliLarry to be melded into one Perhaps like the linguistic term portmanteau a linguistic blend of words in which parts of multiple words or their phonemes sounds are combined into a new word in the end Larry and Shuli will not only be redeemed but blended into one whole person Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part Kaddishcom is about loss and redemption It’s about the far ends of Judaism Orthodox vs Secular It’s about technology and a religious world that prohibits it but may need it It’s about one man’s journey involving all of these things I do not mean for this review to discourage anyone from reading kaddishcom The writing is bright and clever and it’s speckled with humor I think the author poured his heart and soul into it So read it and tell me what you think

  5. says:

    25Like many secular Jews I am a fan of Philip Roth whose irreverent audacious writing did not shy away from tackling the issue of Jewish identity in the United States especially the generational conflicts between the conservative religious generation and younger and secular liberal youth that shaped the community in the post WW2 yearsSo I was excited to see Nathan Englander’s new book Kaddishcom be compared to the early writing of Roth Englander was a Pulitzer finalist for a previous short story collection that seemed to also tackle issues of contemporary Jewish identity admittedly I have not read it so this seemed promising While there are definitely echoes of Roth and Englander certainly writes well this newest novel missed the mark and felt dated better situated alongside Goodbye Columbus rather than a modern take with its finger on the pulse of a Jewish identity in conflict and in fluxWe follow the story of a thirty year old Larry at his father’s deathbed trying to justify his own rejection of orthodox traditions and the religious obligations his father now demands of him as the oldest son Being asked to engage in The Mourners Kaddish a prayer done for eleven months after a loved ones death Larry shirks the responsibility and signs up for a website service that promises to perform the ritual on the mourner’s behalf Many years later now a rabbi the regretful son tries to track down those running the website so that he can re acuire the Kaddish responsibility and do his father right In doing so he must confront what his past failings mean to his spiritual self and what he must do to seek penanceThe story in itself is told well although significantly less acerbic and less funny than Roth sentimental and moralistic compared to the master’s despondency towards such feelings in his writing But that bothered me less than the relevancy of the story While orthodox vs liberal conflicts individual and in the community as a whole occur these are hardly the most important in American Jewry compared to when the classic Goodby Columbus came out in 1959 Instead the kinds of divisions that are fracturing the community deal largely with Israel and whether that state should form something intrinsic to our Jewish identity More and young Jews are saying no and are forming uite different identities than their parents identities that embrace radical political traditions inside Judaism Englander is of course not obligated to delve into this in his fiction but to revert to the realm of orthodox v secular as the framing of a novel very much about Jewish identity he has produced a work that feels stale and not particularly relevant to the uestions many Jews including myself want our fiction to grapple with For that read this novel fails and I continue to wait for our generation’s Roth our Goodbye Columbus

  6. says:

    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 priceTwenty years later that slob Larry doesn’t exist any; 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 kaddishcom 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 it seems like kaddishcom might not existThe 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 uest to Jerusalem – though it’s a locale described in vivid detail – left me coldI 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 of his books and would say this is worth a try if you’ve enjoyed classic Philip Roth and recent Jonathan Safran Foer

  7. says:

    Larry is an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews When his father dies it is his responsibility as the surviving son to recite the Kaddish the Jewish prayer for the dead every day for eleven months He hatches an ingenious if cynical plan hiring a stranger through a website called kaddishcomThis novel is a uick read and not as dense as the last one from this author but Larry is a likeable fool of a character who is still able to go on a deeper journey of self examination in what he owes to his family how much of his identity comes from being Jewish and what that should ultimately mean for his lifeMy rating is like 35 stars It's very readable and Larry is a good character but there is a major character shift that the author doesn't take the reader through but rather makes a big time jump and I can't help but think the best novel would have at least included that story I had a digital copy from the publisher through Edelweiss It came out March 26 2019

  8. says:

    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

  9. says:

    I have tried to appreciate Englander's humour but all I can manage is the occasional wry smile Larry is an Orthodox Jewish apostate who delegates reciting Kaddish for his father to an unknown yeshiva student via a web site but later returns to his faith and tries to trace the student with a little not unexpected twist at the end of his uestAs a plot it's a bit thin and LarryShuli is not a convincing character If the book is intended as satire it was so gentle that I missed it His exploitation of the young student who shows him how to use the internet made me feel somewhat uncomfortable which may have been the author's intention And there is a very weird dream scene featuring glass sex toys the meaning of which was entirely lost on me

  10. says:

    How has it come to this?Nathan Englander may well be the finest current practitioner of the Jewish short story His “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” “How We Avenged the Blums” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” are all at least minor masterpieces and I can’t imagine teaching a Jewish American literature class without at least mentioning him these daysBut someone maybe him and maybe his agent has told him he has to turn out a novel in order to be genuinely big timeHis first attempt The Ministry of Special Cases had some powerful moments including its remarkable opening conceit of a character who literally erases history His job is to scour grave markers so that the children and grandchildren of the criminal element can deny their ancestors’ crimes It goes on too long and descends into an unrelieved darkness but it’s certainly worthwhileHis second Dinner at the Center of the Earth strikes me as almost a great novel It has a couple scenes – the one of Ariel Sharon reliving a moment when he was blown sky high by a mortar – that are masterful and it asks some brutal and powerful uestions about Israeli hopes for peace It ends on a somewhat unearned note but I highly recommend it When it came out two years ago I assumed our next Englander would finally be a great novelBut this one his third isn’t merely flawed like its predecessors It’s a flat out bad bookFor starters this is a highly contrived story Our protagonist whom we meet in the days of his irreligiousity hires an on line company to say the Jewish prayer for the dead twice a day for his recently deceased father Years later he comes to think of himself as having sold a crucial birthright and he sets out to buy it backI’ll skip the convoluted descriptions of how he comes to track down the people behind the website but I’ll point out that there’s nothing inherently “modern” about hiring people to say Kaddish It’s a central plot point in Israel Zangwill’s The King of the Schnorrers published 125 years ago and it’s a long and nearly honored practice There may not be a full transfer of “birthright” as takes place here but the distinction is so narrow that – without reflection than Englander offers – it comes across as a particular complaint of a particular individual It’s not a moral issue and it isn’t really even an issue of Jewish law It’s just a man who won’t forgive himself as his wife repeatedly tells him and a plot contrived to give him excuses not to do soIn addition there’s no substantive character development Our protagonist is so anti religious at the start that he – in line with Alexander Portnoy – streams porn on his nephew’s computer right after sitting shiva for his father Then without pretense of explanation he becomes devout marries and takes a job teaching at his own childhood religious school We never see why he’s so transformed and while there might be intrigue in that omission it seems as if it’s central to his motivation to track down the people behind the website That is the lesser part of his thinking is crucial to what’s happening in the novel while the larger uestion goes by without giving us opportunity to ponder itAnd finally this undermines much of what makes Englander’s short stories so powerful As someone raised in the Orthodox world he has always had the capacity to show us Orthodoxy without exoticizing it His characters are three dimensional; they take the world as they find itHere though we’re left to look on the world of the Orthodox as implicitly peculiar They’re wedded to rituals well because Because they’re wedded to rituals Their character is less who they are and how they define themselves through actions If it had been much blunter we might have gotten a glossary at the back translating the ‘strange’ conduct of our characters into ‘real and comprehensible’ EnglishI’ll acknowledge there’s a residue of serious uestion here and there are a couple of scenes where Englander seems within two steps of his best and most sublime work but I am deeply disappointed on the whole He’s shown us that he has it in him to be among our very best writers With this I have come to doubt it