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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories
NATHAN ENGLANDER

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories by Nathan Englander
95 reviews (1999) (224p)
Amazon.com Best Books
ALA Notable Books - Fiction Finalist

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Book Description
One of the most stunning literary debuts of our time, these energized, irreverent, and deliciously inventive stories introduce an astonishing new talent.

In the collection's hilarious title story, a Hasidic man gets a special dispensation from his rabbi to see a prostitute. "The Wig" takes an aging wigmaker and makes her, for a single moment, beautiful. In "The Tumblers," Englander envisions a group of Polish Jews herded toward a train bound for the death camps and, in a deft, imaginative twist, turns them into acrobats tumbling out of harm's way.

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is a work of startling authority and imagination--a book that is as wondrous and joyful as it is wrenchingly sad. It hearalds the arrival of a remarkable new storyteller.


Amazon.com Review
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is an astonishment. Whether Nathan Englander is creating the last days of 27 condemned Soviet writers or the first in which a Park Avenue lawyer finds religion (in a taxi, no less), his gift is everywhere in evidence. Englander's specialty is the collision of Jewish law and tradition with secular realities, whether in Brooklyn, Tel Aviv, or Stalinist Russia. In one tale, a wigmaker from an ultra-orthodox Brooklyn enclave journeys into Manhattan for supplies and, more importantly, inspiration--frequenting a newsstand where she pays for the right to flip through forbidden fashion magazines. If all Ruchama wants to do is be beautiful again and momentarily free of communal constraints, others ask only to survive. In "The Tumblers," set in World War II Poland (with a metafictional twist), followers of the Mahmir Rebbe get into a train filled with circus performers rather than into a cattle car. Their only chance is to camouflage themselves as part of the troupe:
Their acceptance as acrobats was a stretch, a first-glance guess, a benefit of the doubt granted by circumstance and only as valuable as their debut would prove. It was an absurd undertaking. But then again, Mendel thought, no more unbelievable than the reality from which they'd escaped, no more unfathomable than the magic of disappearing Jews.
Another story, "Reb Kringle," is almost breezy by comparison. Each year, one Brooklynite dreads his holiday job from hell, playing Santa Claus in a Manhattan department store: "There were elves posted on each side of Itzik; one--a humorless, muscular midget--wore a pair of combat boots that gave him the look of elf-at-arms. His companion might have been a twin. He wore black high-tops but had the same vigilant paramilitary demeanor." Itzik can put up with the children's accidents and greed, with his sciatica, and even with a mischief maker's attempt to cut off his beard. But when one boy admits that what he really wants to do is celebrate Hanukkah, "the infamous Reb Santa" loses it. Though this is undoubtedly the collection's lightest piece--proof positive that you have to be a saint to be a Jewish Santa--it is no less piercing an examination of identity and obligation than Englander's more heavyweight entries. --Kerry Fried


Other Award Winning Books by Nathan Englander
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander
109 reviews (2012) (p) (Amazon Top100) (NYT100) (PP)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
42 reviews (2007) (352p) (ALA)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Nathan Englander Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 3  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 3  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 1 What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories ·  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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Pulitzer Prize | National Book Critics Circle Award | National Book Award | PEN/Faulkner Award | Man Booker Prize | Contact