By: Nathan Englander
Call #: Fiction Engla.N
Larry is the fallen-away son in a very Orthodox Jewish family. When his father dies, the clan gathers at his sister’s house to sit shivah, the seven-day mourning period. The whole scene is just torture for poor Larry, who professes no patience for what he considers mere superstition. When he is informed that as the only male child it will be his responsibility to daven (recite) Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, three times a day–morning, afternoon, evening–preferably at an Orthodox shul among a gathering of at least ten men (a minyan) for a full year, he defiantly refuses. His shocked family says failure to do so puts his father’s soul in peril. Ever clever Larry finds an acceptable loop-hole. He cruises the Net and finds a website that offers for a fee a Kaddish-reciting service based at a yeshiva (seminary) in Israel. Clicking the handshake icon “seals” the contract. The family isn’t thrilled, but their Rabbi says it’s kosher. Fast forward 20 years. Larry is re-born. He’s returned to the Orthodox fold, married with two kids, teaching in a New York Jewish elementary school for boys (also a yeshiva), and now goes by Shuli, his old Hebrew name. He’s living happily in Brooklyn until in a flash of guilty hindsight and insight, Shuli realizes that he shouldn’t have just begun saying the Kaddish prayer on the anniversary of his father’s death, but he should have also negated that contract and “bought back” the responsibility. What follows in this sardonic novel are themes Englander’s readers will find familiar: faith, filial duty, obsession, guilt and misdirected remorse. Shuli’s madcap quest to find the kaddish.com organization is both heartbreaking and comic as he undertakes to save his father’s wandering soul and, perhaps, to find his own.