By Nathan Englander
Knopf, $24.95, 207 pages

I often feel the same way about short stories as I do about life: the quantities are small, and it’s all over so quickly. This is especially true when it comes to Nathan Englander. I love his short stories – his first collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, was published in 1999 to critical acclaim – but I much prefer his first and only novel to date, The Ministry of Special Cases which was published in 2007. It was both frightening, dreamlike and spellbinding. His recently released volume of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, is just as engaging with themes of Jewish suffering and survival. If the narrative sounds bleak, let me assure you that it’s not all darkness. The first story, from which the title is taken, is my favorite. It’s both comedic and touching while still dealing with a complex moral issue. Two couples sit around a kitchen table smoking pot rolled with a tampon wrapper, and discuss who of their friends and neighbors might hide them in the event of another Holocaust. The rest of the stories range from the outrageous to the folkloric.

Reviewed by Diane Prokop

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