Home


 



 

Nathan Englander writes at the end of his short story "The Last One Way" in the book Lost Tribe (pg. 20 in the paperback):

I had a right-wing, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, fire-and-brimstone, free thought-free, shtetl-mentality, substandard education. During some formative period or another, I had basic theological questions. None of the men in charge of my religious education were equipped to deal with them. And so I began to look elsewhere, I began to read literature. Simple as that. And the same with creativity. If it wasn't quashed it was surely helped toward strophy. I started writing because it was the one thing that I had the tools for. The single available outlet. If we had a decent blowtorch at home, I might be a welder or an industrial sculptor or pyromaniac. But the two decisions, to give up religion and to dedicate my life to the writing of fiction, are very different. I refuse to have writing equated with rebellion. I had a specific experience growing up that sterred me away from one thing and toward another. They are mutually exclusive.Yet, I admit, they bleed into each other. Stories such as "The Last One Way" deal with a lot of these issues of religiosity and identity and morality. The religion leaks into the writing. And I guess the writing leaks into the religion as well. I am a pro when it comes to ritualistic behavior, everything prescribed and timed and structured, everything right or wrong. And once I got serious about writing, I discovered that I'd adopted a lot of these forms. You write hard every day, six days a week, and on the seventh you rest. My own Sabbath. For a long time Sabbath fell out on Tuesday. Nonetheless, a day of rest makes sense.

Wendy Shalit writes in the Jan. 30, 2005 New York Times Book Review:

Consider, for example, Nathan Englander, a talented writer whose collection of stories, ''For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,'' brimmed with revelations of hypocrisy and self-inflicted misery: a fistfight that breaks out in synagogue over who will read from the Torah; a sect whose members fast three days instead of one and drink a dozen glasses of wine at the Passover seders instead of four; a man whose rabbi sends him to a prostitute when his wife won't sleep with him. Of course, the Orthodox don't actually brawl over who reads the Torah, no rabbi is allowed to write a dispensation for a man to see a prostitute, and even extremely pious Jews can't invent their own traditions for fast days or seders. Englander's sketches were fictional, but did most people realize this?

Apparently not. The world at large took him to be a ''former yeshiva boy'' who had renounced his old life. Englander didn't help matters by referring to the ''anti-intellectual'' and ''fire-and-brimstone'' aspects of his ''shtetl mentality substandard education'' -- a strange way of describing the Long Island community where he grew up, which prides itself on its tolerance and dedication to learning, both secular and religious. Englander is about as much a product of the shtetl as John Kerry. He actually attended the coeducational Hebrew Academy of Nassau County and then the State University of New York, Binghamton. It was one of his supposedly substandard teachers who encouraged him to write in the first place.