KADDISH.COM by Nathan Englander


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A lapsed Jew returns to the fold and becomes obsessed with redeeming a spiritual mistake made 20 years earlier.

When Larry's father dies, he must travel from Brooklyn to his sister Dina's house in Memphis, Tennessee, to sit shiva in the style of the Orthodox community from which he has vigorously removed himself. "The second day of shiva is even harder than the first....He lets himself be small-talked and well-wished, nodding politely....One after another, he receives the pathologically tone-deaf tales of everyone else's dead parents....Larry wants to say, in response, 'Thanks for sharing, and fuck your dead dad.' " As his sister and her rabbi clearly understand, there is no way, no how this guy will fulfill his duty as his father's only son to recite the mourner's kaddish daily for 11 months. But without it, his father will be "gathering wood for his own fire" in the World to Come. As a last resort, the rabbi explains that he can find a proxy to do it for him. So Larry does, hitting upon a website that provides just this service at Kaddish.com, "a JDate for the dead." Then, a week or two after the contract ends, Larry receives a note from Chemi, the yeshiva boy with whom he was matched. It includes a photo that somehow shakes loose in Larry all his grief for his father and himself. It leads him to change his life and his name; frankly, the person he becomes, whom we encounter two decades later, seems to have nothing in common with the original Larry. Incidents in his new life lead to his determination to find a way to atone for his long-ago shirking, no matter what it costs in the present. From the title and the tone in the "Larry" part of the book, Englander's (Dinner at the Center of the Earth, 2017, etc.) novel might seem to be a satire, but it ends up feeling more like a straightforward, almost simplistic parable designed to teach a spiritual lesson, one which takes very seriously Orthodox views of the soul and afterlife. On the other hand, it contains what is certainly one of the weirdest sex scenes ever found in a nice Jewish story.

Again, Englander demonstrates his skill at placing timeless concerns of Judaism in sharply modern circumstances. This one feels oddly preachy, though.

Pub Date: March 27th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5247-3275-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2019


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