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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories Paperback – Mar 21 2000

3.9 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; unknown edition (March 21 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704437
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #386,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

"I suffer greatly under the urges with which I have been blessed," says Dov Binyamin, an orthodox Jew agonizing over his wife Chava's self-imposed celibacy, and one of several protagonists in Englander's stellar first collection who seek often ill-fitting rabbinical answers to thorny modern problems. When Dov's rebbe grants him authorization to see a prostitute, the consequences (not least of which is a case of VD) offer a moral fable of pathos and hilarity that is the signature key of these nine graceful and remarkably self-assured stories. Ranging expertly from contemporary Israel to New York and to isolated Yiddish communities in Russia and Europe, they spin a vision of 20th-century orthodox Judaism under siege from both political tyranny and the rapid pace of modern life. Englander's prose is spare and crystalline, capturing the singsong rhythms and sometimes contorted English of a primarily Yiddish cast, often striking a deliberately archaic tone, as in "The 27th Man," the Chekhovian tale of Pinchas Pelovits, a dreamy, unpublished writer in midcentury Russia. Not unlike Englander, Pinchas has "constructed his own world with a compassionate God and a diverse group of worshipers. In it, he tested these people with moral dilemmas and tragedies." Abducted by Stalin's henchmen, Pinchas composes a miniature masterpiece, a parable of faith in spite of an absent God, which he recites to his cell mates only minutes before being gunned down by a firing squad. Despite their surface mixture of humor and horror, these are stories of ideas, offering complex meditations on Judaism through the eyes of an astonishing range of characters: a disconsolate middle-age orthodox woman imprisoned in limbo by a husband who won't grant a divorce; a Cheeveresque Park Avenue financial analyst with a taxi-cab epiphany that he's Jewish; an American navigating the streets of contemporary Jerusalem during a terrorist campaign. Englander's reported $350,000 advance for this collection has made it one of the most bruited literary debuts of the year. Such brouhaha shouldn't cloud the achievement of these unpretentious and powerful stories.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Englander has managed to string together a wonderful collection of short stories, unlike any that I have read before. Each story pulls you in of its own right and keeps you captivated until the end. Stories such as, "The Wig" and the title's namesake, bring you into the life of someone you would never have otherwise met. The characters are so vivid that they could be sitting right next to you; Englander doesn't just describe them, he brings them to life. Ruchama, from "The Wig," is described as having six children and a chin for each of them. Englander may not be a woman but he is able to write from the point of view of one with incredible accuracy. Being Catholic myself, I learned a lot about Jewish customs from "The Gilgul of Park Avenue" where a complacent Christian suddenly decides he is Jewish while riding in a taxi cab. Englander has created a terrific work of art in each of his short stories and I would highly recommend this to almost anyone.
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Format: Paperback
Nathan Englander is a creative, intelligent writer whose stories range from profound to unfortunately predictable. There are a variety of short stories in For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, all dealing with the common thread of the Jewish religion. The most interesting in my opinion is "The Twenty-Seventh Man," which includes some very raw emotions from its central characters. Although the conclusion is fairly predictable, the conversations between the four Jewish writers during Stalin's reign in the USSR. are quite powerful and significant. "The Wig" is less predictable, but lacks some of the zest of the prior story, but certainly makes up for it in craziness. Based upon the common idea that you don't really appreciate what you have until it is gone, the story follows around a woman in search of the perfect hair that she once had. This story opens up many people's eyes to what it would be like to live the life of the main character, Ruchama. While I never thought that I didn't understand her, I never really felt that I knew what made her tick either. The characters in "The Gilgul of Park Avenue"are far more developed, yet seemed to be less relatable. I just find it a story that is hard to believe and therefore couldn't understand the main character, Charles. His sudden epiphany in a NYC taxicab is quite difficult to relate to especially as a New Yorker. The story than becomes more believable, but Charles becomes more and more distracting. The title story was by far the most appealing and at the same time the most absurd. "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" centers around a couple who are having marital problems and then leads to the husband making some very bad choices. I was intrigued by the husband's lack of common sense as well as the Rabbi's incredibly insensitive and unintelligent advice. Although some of the stories stand out in a bright shining light, many are dull and not worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is a collection of short stories taking ordinary experiences everyday people have and portraying them in an interesting and creative manner. While some stories were a little confusing, introducing religious terminology I am unfamiliar with, they all served to teach me things I never knew about the Jewish religion. Each story presents its readers with an engaging situation in which the readers are eager to find out what happens next. One of the stories I would most recommend is "The Gilgul of Park Avenue." This story is about a Christian man who realizes in the back of a taxi that he is now Jewish, whether his wife likes it or not. This story was so interesting because I was able to put myself in the wife's position. I was able to imagine what I would do in her situation.
I found the stories both interesting and educational; introducing me to things I had never been aware of. The only thing I did not like about these stories were the cliffhanger endings. Englander ties up most loose ends before ending the story, but after reading them I began to wonder "what happens next?" All in all, a great collection of short stories that I would highly recommend.
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Format: Paperback
There is a place where ordinary everyday events intersect with the transcendent. This place is ineffable; Rudolf Otto, in his memorable book, "The Idea of the Holy", referred to it as the "numinous". Nathan Englander, in his collection of stories, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges", captures this place in the best of his stories. In "The Tumblers", a band of Hasidim escape a train to the death camps, ending up instead on a train of circus performers. While "clumsy as Jews", they improvise a tumbling act which leads to a magical and redemptive outcome that leaves the reader breathless and disturbed. In "The Twenty-seventh Man", Englander tells the tale of Pinchas Pelovits, a writer who has never published--a writer known only to himself. That is, until the day Pinchas is rounded up with "an eminent selection of Europe's surviving Yiddish literary community" as part of Stalin's purges. In this setting, in a room no bigger than a closet, Pinchas Pelovits encounters the numinous, finds an audience, and generates meaning for the desperate situation of his cellmates.
These are only two of the nine stories, perhaps the two best. Each story in this vividly imagined and often disturbingly brilliant collection seeks to capture the meeting of the ordinary with the extraordinary, the ineffable. Each story seeks to provide a locus where religious belief (in this case, Orthodox Judaism) inscribes meaning in the mundane, and sometimes desperate, lives of its characters. While Englander doesn't always succeed, and there are as many mediocre stories in this collection as there are remarkable ones, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" is, at its best, the work of nascent literary genius, perhaps the beginning of a remarkable career.
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