This collection of short stories is varied in style and point of view but all represent Englander’s perception of his Jewish faith. One story tells of his investigation into his own family history. Others approach the Jewish holocaust experience. Others let us into the lives of those who experience prejudice. And there are insights into just what it is to be a “good Jew”.
There is some wit or humor in each, though in some cases it is hidden. And not a little irony. As a whole, the collection informed and entertained me. My favorite is the title story. In this story, two Jewish couples get together for dinner. One couple is Hassidic and is visiting from Israel. They have taken new names and do not touch each other in public. The other is of a more relaxed faith. The two had known each other before the first turned Hassidic, and the narrator (the man of the second couple) refuses to think of them in their new names.
Discussion turns on a “non-game” that the wife of the second couple has played in her mind since childhood. If you were non-Jewish and your Jewish friends were threatened, would you risk your life by providing shelter for them?
I liked the idea of this “non-game” as well as the ultimate end of the story, and the insights into the couples it offers. Of course it gives me something to think about myself, about how I would react depending on who the persons are who need help, what they represent to me. Would I be able to ignore what they are to me?
The second story is a bit of a fable, about a woman who is part of one of two families who settled Israel many a year ago, and how through the years fate did not shine kindly on her. In this one we discover some of the basis of the belief in the God-given Jewish state, the unwritten promise. And we can make of it what we will.
“Camp Sundown” I found to be hilarious, if edgy hilarious. The camp has two parts: for elderly folks and for young folks. At times the twain do meet. The conflict that throws it off kilter happens when one elderly couple accuses an elderly man of having been a Nazi in WWII. The camp director, Josh, can’t believe it, as the old man seems to come alive only when playing bridge. Josh takes great pleasure in seeing the man’s eyes light up.
It’s a voyage of discovery, in a way, this collection. Entertaining and biting at the same time. Revealing and confessional.