‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank’ by Nathan Englander


What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, 2011

The magic trick:

Using outstanding dialogue and a wonderful sense of humor to disguise what is a very serious consideration of Judaism and society

We begin a month of 21st century short fiction today.

And it’s another excellent example of why I prefer fiction to pretty much everything. This could’ve been an essay about cultural vs. religious Judaism. This could’ve been a memoir about Holocaust education. Instead, it’s a short story, and a very good one at that.

Yeah, it gets a little heavy handed there at the end, but it’s OK – Englander already has won you over long before with the wonderful characters and his sense of humor. It’s pretty much the spoonful-of-sugar-makes-the-medicine-go-down logic. You’re so busy laughing you don’t notice the more philosophical ramifications of the conversation until you’ve finished the story and days later you realize you’re considering which friends of yours you’d put to the “Anne Frank test” and trust to protect your safety. And that’s quite a trick on Englander’s part.

The selection:

Facebook and Skype brought Deb and Lauren back together. They were glued at the hip growing up. Went all the way through school together. Yeshiva school. All girls. Out in Queens till high school and then riding the subway together to one called Central in Manhattan. They stayed best friends until I married Deb and turned her secular, and soon after that Lauren met Mark and they went off to the Holy Land and shifted from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox, which to me sounds like a repackaged detergent—orthodox ultra®, now with more deep-healing power. Because of that, we’re supposed to call them Shoshana and Yerucham now. Deb’s been doing it. I’m just not saying their names.

“You want some water?” I offer. “Coke in the can?”

“ ‘You’—which of us?” Mark says.

“You both,” I say. “Or I’ve got whiskey. Whiskey’s kosher, too, right?”


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