Englander, Nathan 1970-
ENGLANDER, Nathan 1970-
Born 1970, in New York, NY. Education: Binghamton University, B.A.; University of Iowa, M.F.A.; attended Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.
Home—Jerusalem, Israel and New York, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer. Worked as manager of a commercial photography studio.
Bard Fiction Prize, Bard College, 2001; Pushcart Prize.
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including New Yorker, Story, Atlantic, and American Short Fiction. Contributor to anthologies, including The Art of the Story and Neurotica.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A novel, set in Argentina.
Nathan Englander's well-reviewed book For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is a collection of nine short stories, "a remarkable collection for a newcomer still in his twenties to produce," wrote Nicholas Clee in New Statesman. A balance of "comedy and tragedy, surrealism, and pathos" from the Jewish storytelling traditions of writers such asBernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer, the book demonstrates "poise and effectiveness" and reveals Englander to be "a writer of distinctive gifts," Clee remarked.
Born in New York City in 1970, Englander grew up on Long Island in "an Orthodox home in New York, where I had a right-wing, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, fire-and-brimstone, free-thought free, shtetl-mentality, substandard education," he said in an interview on the Bold Type Web site. He studied at a yeshiva throughout his youth and high school days, where he started writing when he was "discovered and rescued by that one teacher that fate inevitably puts in these parochial schools," Englander said in an Atlantic Online interview. His sincere theological questions were disdained, he said, "so when my English teacher got me started reading books, she opened the world to me. Writing became my lifeline."
Throughout his youth and young adulthood, Englander maintained strict observance of Jewish religious rules and traditions. Instead of continuing his Orthodox education, he enrolled at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Although he considered college to be "unbelievably eye-opening, coming from where I did," he continued to observe the rules of his religion, he said in the Bold Type interview. In his junior year, he traveled to Israel, a life-changing trip that found him abandoning his religion and delving deep into his work and identity as a writer.
Englander returned from Israel and graduated from college, then enrolled at the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the urging of the mother of a friend who saw an early draft of the short story "The Twenty-seventh Man," wrote Paul Zakrzewski on the GenerationJ Web site. He successfully completed the prestigious Iowa program and earned his M.F.A. in creative writing.
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is "a superb short story collection that reveals the tension between the sacred and the profane for Orthodox Jews," wrote Frank Caso in Booklist. In the title story, Dov Binyamin, a Jewish man whose wife has undertaken self-imposed celibacy, seeks special permission from his rabbi to visit a prostitute. After his experiences with the prostitute, and the resulting case of venereal disease, Binyamin becomes less and less interested in his wife, even when her sexual appetite re-emerges. In "The Twenty-seventh Man," twenty-six of the most prominent Jewish authors under the Stalinist regime are rounded up, tortured, and executed. But the twenty-seventh man, Pinchas Pelovits, is there by mistake; he has never published a single word. While imprisoned, Pelovits composes and recites a story to his doomed comrades, and it is a masterpiece. The story "is a radiant little fable of acceptance and loss," Clee wrote.
The characters in "The Tumblers" are a group of Jews destined for the concentration camps, but who board the wrong train and find themselves with a group of entertainers. They devise an acrobatic act to save themselves, even though they are not acrobats and their performance is farcical, prompting one audience member to declare, ironically, that "They are as clumsy as Jews." But their determination saves them from a gruesome end. In "The Gilgul of Park Avenue" a gentile Protestant realizes, quite abruptly in the back of a Manhattan taxi cab, that he is Jewish. "Reb Kringle" depicts a New York rabbi who, every year, takes the job of a department store Santa Claus.
D. Mesher, writing in Judaism, called the collection "wonderful" and observed that the author "shows an impressive command of both art and artifice" in his writing. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Englander "A wise and mature new voice," while another reviewer noted the "pathos and hilarity that is the signature key of these nine graceful and remarkably self-assured stories." The book's "memorable characters and equally memorable circumstances of their struggles make all nine stories a pleasure to read and contemplate," Caso concluded in Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1999, Frank Caso, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 1150; October 1, 1999, Ray Olson and Gilbert Taylor, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 322.
Judaism, winter, 2000, D. Mesher, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 120.
New Statesman June 28, 1999, Nicholas Clee, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1999, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 74; November 1, 1999, review of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, p. 46.
Atlantic Unbound,http:/www.theatlantic.com/ (March 3, 1999), interview with Englander.
GenerationJ.com,http://www.generationj.com/ (September 16, 2002), Paul Zakrzewski, profile of Englander.
New York State Writers Institute Web site,http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/ (March 28, 2000), profile of Englander.
Random House Web sitehttp://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 16, 2002), interview with Englander.
Seattle Arts & Lectures Web site,http://www.lectures.org/ (April 12, 2000), biography of Englander.*