Fic­tion

kad​dish​.com

  • Review
By – March 4, 2019

Three cheers for Nathan Eng­lan­der, back on his home turf in his best nov­el to date. In kad​dish​.com, set in the Mod­ern Ortho­dox world, a some­times-errat­ic man named Shuli strug­gles to make his life whole again after the death of his beloved father. Shat­tered by his loss, Shuli can’t cope with his unfo­cused anger. He has aban­doned the reli­gious life which his father cher­ished and rebels against the stric­tures of shi­va, the week-long mourn­ing process, for the father he loved. He can’t even bring him­self to com­mit to say­ing the Kad­dish memo­r­i­al prayer regularly.

Shuli thinks he’s found the per­fect solu­tion when he stum­bles across a web­site, kad​dish​.com, that promis­es to find some­one to say the Kad­dish prayer for him — like a JDate for the dead,” as he puts it. But no soon­er does he take that step than a sense of guilt over­comes him, and he embraces the Ortho­doxy he thought he had left behind.

As in any quest, Shuli’s suc­cess depends on the peo­ple he meets along the way. One piv­otal change comes when he meets a yeshi­va boy who has also rebelled in the face of loss.His wife also plays a sig­nif­i­cant role, as she helps him learn to mod­er­ate his obsessiveness.

Yet, Shuli is still not at peace. He can’t escape the guilt he feels for hav­ing used kad​dish​.com instead of say­ing the Kad­dish him­self, and he begins to obsess about how to undo what he has done. His guilt takes him to Jerusalem, where he learns a dis­may­ing secret but ulti­mate­ly finds the begin­nings of his own redemption.

kad​dish​.com is a more inti­mate nov­el than either of Englander’s oth­er two. Both Din­ner at the Cen­ter of the Earth, which cen­tered around Israeli pol­i­tics and politi­cians, and The Min­istry of Spe­cial Cas­es, which dealt with the dic­ta­tor­ship in Argenti­na, were deeply affect­ing but bear the weight of back­ground research. In kad​dish​.com, the set­tings and the peo­ple are sec­ond-nature to Eng­lan­der. When he writes about a yeshi­va, or the Nachla’ot neigh­bor­hood of Jerusalem, he has an espe­cial­ly keen eye and ear. He has always had an instinct for the telling detail, and it’s a con­tin­u­al delight for the read­er, as his fans — espe­cial­ly of his short sto­ries — will attest.

kad​dish​.com has many virtues: the brisk pace of the sto­ry, the appeal­ing sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, the ongo­ing sus­pense. Chief among them, though, is Englander’s abid­ing sym­pa­thy for peo­ple and the mis­takes they make, and his under­stand­ing of the aching need for forgiveness.

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