For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

by Nathan Englander

Book, 1999



Call number




New York : A.A. Knopf, 1999.


Stories on being Jewish set in various parts of the world. In the title story, a sex-starved husband in New York is authorized by his rabbi to visit a prostitute, In This Way We Are Wise is on the nonchalant attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to terrorism, while Reb Kringle is on a Jew who works as Santa Claus in a department store.

User reviews

LibraryThing member EmScape
Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American writer living in Jerusalem. His short stories feature Jewish people going about their daily lives in a somewhat extraordinary way. Each story highlights a different aspect of being, not just Jewish, but a person. They resonate deeply, even if one is not at all
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familiar with the way of life and traditions of this culture.
I, personally, know next to nothing about Jewish culture. I have read next to nothing on the subject, and what I do know comes from popular media and is probably inaccurate. I can tell, however, that the details and characterizations in this work are extremely accurate and draw the reader into identification with characters who are about as disparate from him or her as an ant is from a water buffalo.
The first two stories are set a little more than half a century ago and as such, are heartbreaking. What shines through in these two tales is the indomitable spirit of the characters when faced with certain death. The next few tales are more contemporary and slightly more light-hearted. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to find out that they are all organized chronologically.
I enjoyed "Reb Kringle' the most. "The Wig" I found almost silly. "Reunion" was deeply moving. I would not be at all surprised if the final narrative, "In This Way We Are Wise" is autobiographical. I don't want to give more of a synopsis in this review because I would encourage everyone to experience this collection for themselves. It is poignant and fascinating.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
I read this book a second time for the my book group. I thought I had liked it better the first time I read it. It is obvious that the writing is good, but I did not really care for most of the stories. Englander's characters are not well-enough developed for me to be really interested in them.
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Both he and Shalom Aulander have left Orthodox Judaism, and I definitely prefer Englander's take on the rituals and lifestyle.
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LibraryThing member lriley
This is a fine debut collection of short stories by Englander--mostly centering around Jewish themes and set mostly in the United States though in the final story 'In this way we are wise' in Israel. Some of Englander's characters are a bit more religious than others and this seems to be of
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particular interest to the author--the diverse meaning of what it can mean to be Jewish. The stories here are well plotted and written with an objective eye and a sly sense of humor. They flow easily to the eye and can at times 'Reb Kringle' or 'The wig' be quite hilarious. Although I haven't read all that much of Isaac Singer's work the comparison made of Englander by some to him does not seem far fetched to me. He is an excellent and a very interesting writer and it's too bad that he makes us wait so long from this debut work in 1999 until 2007 for his first novel. Hopefully he can hurry up his creative gestation period because this writer is seriously worth watching.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
For the relief of unbearable urges is a collection of nine short stories, which are all very well-written, but a trifle boring. Placing the author on an equal footing as Philip Roth or Saul Bellow is really rather premature.

Jewish people are not by definition more interesting than other people. A
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short story must be infused with some inspiration. It is here where Englander's stories are wanting.

The first two stories are excellent. They are recognizable, very well-written, and deal with some of the major themes in the literature of Jewish writers on the Twentieth century. The first story in the collection "The Twenty-seventh Man" is reminiscent of Kafka, descrbing the fate of Jewish intellectuals under Stalin, while the second story, "The Tumblers" deals with the holocaust. Both stories are original, and immediately accessible. To some extent that is also true of the title story (number eight in the collection), "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges", which end with on a "funny" note. The other stories miss the characteristic accessibility through familiarity with the stories as belonging to the genre of Jewish (-American) literature.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
I was disappointed in this book; I had read a few of Englander's short stories and remember thinking they were excellent. These were ok, but I did not find them hilarious and profound, as the Times did.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is the 3rd book that I have read by Englander. It was interesting to compare this first effort with his latest publication of short stories. I was very impressed with these short stories. Having been raised in a reasonably religious Jewish home, I usually don't read this subject matter, but
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because I have read previous Englander books, I decided to read it. It really illustrates the problems with deeply religious groups who seem to adhere more to ritual than to the spirit of the religion. Englander captures this in his stories. He also shows great creativity in many of the stories while bringing out his message. Although this book might resonate more with people of the Jewish faith, I think it has something for everyone. An excellent writer who I will continue to read.
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LibraryThing member ral12345
Englander focuses much of his attention on developing complex characters that require scrutiny from readers. One of the best things about this collection is that a reader can come in and do one or two of the stories and leave satisfied; yet, for the more serious reader, second and third reads of
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the entire collection yield new discoveries, making this book great for light readers as well as lovers of literature.
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LibraryThing member Juva
This is a thoughtful collection of stories that stars Jews in various times and settings. Each story has some humor, some dark meditation, and lots of beautiful prose. I enjoyed the read.

The Twenty-seventh Man - Twenty-Seven Jewish writers are rounded up by Stalin's secret police and held together
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in a cell. One of these men is there by mistake, and he writes a story in his head while he and his comrades are being brutally beaten before execution.

The Tumblers - A group of Jewish ghetto dwellers escape the concentration camp by posing as acrobats.

Reunion - An odd man is confined to a rest home after an embarrassing incident at synagogue. There he meets the brother of his Rabbi and is headed for an ugly confrontation and family fallout.

The Wig - An wig-maker becomes obsessed with having the perfect wig. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she regrets all she has given up and becomes fixated on this one outward adornment that will recapture her youth and preserve her hope.

The Gilgul of Park Avenue - A wealthy WASP has the unexpected epiphany that he is a Jew. Naturally both his wife and his therapist are at their wit's end.

Reb Kringle - A rabbi poses as Santa Claus every year to make ends meet.

The Last One Way - An aging woman in a thirty-six year marriage has been seeking a divorce for the last eighteen. As time passes she becomes more desperate, even considering the murder of her unrelenting husband.

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges - A man with a sexually reluctant wife receives a special dispensation from his rabbi to visit a prostitute.

In This Way We Are Wise - A young man in Jerusalem grows contemplative after a terrorist attack happens very close to his cafe.
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LibraryThing member thatotter
I found many of these stories funny or poignant, but I didn't feel that any of them concluded strongly.
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This is a very strong collection of well-crafted stories, using religious Jewish individuals as the main characters. A little bit funny, but mostly overflowing with pathos, the stories work well together because each is different enough to stand out on its own.

"Reb Kringle" tell of a devoutly
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Jewish man who must work as a department store Santa to augment his income. "The Tumblers" is about Jews headed for a concentration camp who pretend to be traveling tumblers (acrobats) to save their lives. "In This Way We Are Wise" is about a couple who live in Jerusalem during the bombing of their local café.

I finished this book being terribly depressed because "In This Way We Ate Wise" was the last story. I guess this could be considered either good or bad. It could be good in that the story is very precise and moving and demonstrates how well Englander writes. It could also be bad because this is the ongoing state of precariousness for my beloved city of Jerusalem.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
These stories aren't light reading, but they're incredibly engaging if you can take the time to sit and enjoy them. This is by far the most original short story collection I've read in some time, and at the same time, his characters, themes, and style bring it together to be also one of the most
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cohesive collections I've read since O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. It comes highly recommended, particularly if you're a fan of fiction that integrates religion in interesting and/or surprising ways, or if you're a fan of Calvino, Marquez, or other authors who'll force you to think if you want the full impact of a story.
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Original publication date



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