Posted by: Jeanie F | February 8, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander isn’t exactly a household name, but few writers of short stories are. That he has won prestigious awards – The Pen/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize to name just two – should indicate that maybe he should be, particularly considering he won the Pen/Faulkner at the tender age of thirty. His work has been anthologized in three separate editions of Best American Short Stories and appeared in numerous other publications, including The New Yorker magazine.

This is his second collection of short stories. In between he wrote the novel, The Ministry of Special Cases. I’ve just barely begun this collection, having read only the title story so far, but I’m pretty excited to know that seven more await me.

If the title of this collection seems vaguely familiar, it’s because Englander has riffed off of Raymond Carver’s famous “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Oddly, the substitution of “Anne Frank” in this particular story doesn’t change the original question: What do we mean when we talk about love?

The story tells of two Jewish couples, one American secular Jews, one Israeli Hassidics. The wives were best friends as girls before Lauren – renamed Shoshana –  and her husband moved to Israel and converted. This is the first time the couples have been together in twelve years, and initially the cultural and religious gaps appear almost insurmountable.

What finally draws them together is an unexpected decision to get high. By the end of the story, their inhibitions and mutual prejudice against each others’ lifestyles have been broken down and they are left to face that question: What do we mean when we talk about love?

Many people don’t care for short stories, but I’m in awe of an author’s ability to use so few words to construct a credible world, peopled by men and women that we feel we know.

I can’t guarantee that the rest of the stories in this collection will stand in comparison to this one, but I can’t wait to find out.


  1. I read Nathan Englander’s first book of short stories, ‘For the Relief of Unbearable Urges’, which I liked a lot. Up until reading your article, I thought ‘Anne Frank’ was non-fiction. Now I might read it.

  2. I think it will be right up your alley. Great collection!

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