Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

I came across this book several times in the book shop and saw other blogger’s reviews. It seemed good, but… short stories? As you may know, I’m not a short story fan. But the book looked attractive, the reviews were good, and I previously read The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander, and enjoyed it lots. So, I went and read the stories.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: What it is about

From the publishers: “The title story, inspired by Raymond Carver’s masterpiece, is a provocative portrait of two marriages in which the Holocaust is played out as a devastating parlor game. In the outlandishly dark “Camp Sundown” vigilante justice is undertaken by a group of geriatric campers in a bucolic summer enclave. “Free Fruit for Young Widows” is a small, sharp study in evil, lovingly told by a father to a son.

“Sister Hills” chronicles the history of Israel’s settlements from the eve of the Yom Kippur War through the present, a political fable constructed around the tale of two mothers who strike a terrible bargain to save a child. Marking a return to two of Englander’s classic themes, “Peep Show” and “How We Avenged the Blums” wrestle with sexual longing and ingenuity in the face of adversity and peril. And “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side” is suffused with an intimacy and tenderness that break new ground for a writer who seems constantly to be expanding the parameters of what he can achieve in the short form.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: What I thought

I loved some of the stories a lot and others not so much. The title story was such fun! The subject is difficult: who would take you in and hide you (like Anne Frank) if a war broke out and “they” were after you? A very entertaining story.

Sister Hills was like almost like a fairy tale, about a woman who sells her daughter to her neighbor to save the child. It also tells the story of early Jewish settlers and the expansion of their settlement into a large town. This was beautifully written and entertaining.

After those two stories, I was not so interested anymore. How to Avenge the Blums is about some Jewish boys (in America) trying to fight off some anti-Jewish boys. Violence? The next is about a peepshow. It becomes surrealistic and I felt embarrassed on the main character’s behalf about what happened in this story. Nah. Not for me.

Really, I liked the first two stories, and after that, I wasn’t interested anymore. I think someone who enjoys short stories per sé will like this better than I did. The stories all had a Jewish theme but are very different, to a degree that you’d never mix up the different stories. I like that.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 216 (Dutch edition)

First published: 2012

I got this book: from the library

My edition: Dutch: Waar we het over hebben wanneer we het over Anne Frank hebben

Genre: short stories, contemporary fiction


Have you read this book?

What did you think?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

12 Responses to Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

  1. Although I think the title is intriguing, I’ gonna let this one pass by, Judit. You know that like you, I’m not a fan of short stories.

  2. Suzanne says:

    I really liked this collection, though I agree some stories were better than others.
    (This is the book I sent to Rob to get signed at the Edinburgh Book Festival)

  3. There seems to be a lot of Anne Frank related books around at the moment…

  4. Isi says:

    I don’t like short stories neither. But I have to admit that the title with Anne Frank makes you think that the book is worth reading.
    In any case, I don’t think I will read it.

  5. Mel u says:

    I love short stories. This collection won the 2012 Frank Connor Award, the top prize for short stories. I read the lead story only. I thought it was a decent story but kind of a one idea story. I was not motivated by it to read the full collection. Like most people for decades I read no short stories. 2.5 years ago I overcome this prejudice and since then have read lots of wonderful works.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Mel, I know you are a great advocate of short stories, but I had no idea your love for short stories was so recent! I’m not sure in my case it’s a prejudice – I have always liked longer stories (in fact, big, big books were my favorite when I was younger).

      A pity to read that you didn’t like the *What We Talk About…* collection so much.

      • Mel u says:

        Many bloggers, most I think, do not read short stories as they want to really get to know the characters they read about, to enter a full world in a book and feel short stories leave them hanging or wanting more. People feel, they say, short changed by short stories. To this my response is read the collected short stories of Flannery O’Connor, under 500 pages, and then decide if the short story is somehow an art form not worthy of your attention. I still love big huge books, I am reading Bleak House now, but often I think would i get more out of reading a 1000 page novel or 100 ten pages short stories by 100 different authors.

      • Leeswammes says:

        Mel, I think you’re right that as a reader, I prefer a full world that I can spend some time reading about. I know it’s unfair to discard short stories completely – and as you can see, I did read this book! I actually did enjoy the first two stories, just not the others.

        Thanks for the recommendation of Flannery O’Connor!

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