A few years ago, the Mexican literary magazine Letras Libres asked me to write an essay about major trends in the last decade of American literature. The more I thought about what such trends might be, the less convinced I became that there even was such a thing as “American literature” anymore. The books that had interested me most in the late 1990s and early 2000s were by writers who were emigrants or members of minority ethnic groups: Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat, Nathan Englander.
The Ministry of Special CasesBy Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf, 339 pp., $25) IN ONE OF the best-known stories in For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, the collection of short stories that shot Nathan Englander into the literary stratosphere seven years ago, a middle-aged WASP sitting in a taxi cab has the sudden and inexplicable revelation that he is Jewish. The next day he visits a rabbi in Brooklyn, who informs him that he is a gilgul, or reincarnated soul, and sends him off with a copy of The Chosen.