Nathan Englander to Discuss Latest Novel “kaddish.com” at LFJCC

by Alex Wehrung March 27, 2019
 

 

engl_9781524732752_ap1_r1Author and Pulitzer finalist Nathan Englander will be coming to the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s Garfield Theatre on April 5 for Shabbat dinner and to discuss his latest novel, “kaddish.com.”

The night will include a conversation between Englander and the Artistic Director of the Old Globe, Barry Edelstein.

Drawing upon Englander’s background as an Orthodox Jew, the novel portrays the life of Larry, the secular son in an Orthodox family who pays for an anonymous stranger to say Kaddish in his stead after his father’s death. The book also deals with assimilation, personal growth and redemption.

“I was trying to think about change, doublings, flips,” Englander said in a phone interview with the San Diego Jewish Journal. This thought formed the basis for Larry’s creation. “I thought, ‘Well, now I’m not religious.’ What happens if someone flips back?”

Despite the story centering solely on an Orthodox Jew who re-discovers his faith, Englander says that the novel is universal. “I acknowledge the Jewish content of this book, but anyone needs to be able to pick up a story. That’s how books work. We all read distant from ourselves. We can talk about ideas of Judaism and the world. I don’t know anyone who is recommended ‘Game of Thrones’ and says, ‘Well, I don’t have a dragon, do I need to see it?’”

The novel also works to compare G-d to the internet, in that they are both omniscient entities. “I was told that G-d knows everything you have, [what you] are doing and will do. I thought, ‘We already built that.’ It’s not always on, but man, it feels like it is. You’re in a city with CCTV cameras [and] cell-phones; we’ve built a beta version of G-d already. It’s the predictive element I find to be especially creepy,” Englander said, drawing upon the algorithms of apps like Instagram as an example.

In addition to being a novelist, Englander has also published short story collections, and the techniques of writing both blended in the process of creating his newest work. “[“kaddish.com”] is my third novel and the first one that I wrote in the way I write a short story,” Englander said. “I wrote it in a fever. Usually, it takes me three years to write a first draft, this took me three months.”

“I rewrote it obsessively, I draft obsessively. All my hair pulling and madness was all in the rewrite.”

Englander was raised on Long Island in what he called a ‘restrictive’ Orthodox childhood—his school, friends and sports teams were all Orthodox. “I’ve always been rule-oriented; growing up, religious rules mattered a lot to me,” he said, noting how this has translated into paying close attention to story continuity during the writing process.

“Most of this book hinges around the proxy, the emissary, the rules around someone who has to be a proxy to do something religious, and the idea of contracts and the deals we make with people.”

In a cheeky marketing move, one can visit kaddishdotcom.com and be offered the same services Larry pays for in the novel. However, clicking on the hyperlinks actually leads to a new page to purchase the novel.

Englander has written two other novels, “The Ministry of Special Cases” and “Dinner at the Center of the Earth.” He has also published two short story collections, “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.”

Englander spent a few years living in Jerusalem before he eventually moved back to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York. “I grew up religious,” he said. “I am secular now, but everyone is teasing me about having a religious soul.”

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