Short Stories Challenge – How We Avenged The Blums by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published March 28, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s How We Avenged The Blums all about?:

These eight new stories from the celebrated novelist and short-story writer Nathan Englander display a gifted young author grappling with the great questions of modern life, with a command of language and the imagination that place Englander at the very forefront of contemporary American fiction. How We Avenged The Blums is a tale about how a group of young boys stand up to a neighbourhood bully who seems to be targeting one Jewish family in particular, the Blums.

What did I think?:

How We Avenged The Blums is the third story in this collection by Nathan Englander and for the most part I did enjoy it although I think the first two stories have the edge so far. It concerns a Jewish family called Blum who are being terrorised by a bully – nicknamed the “Anti-Semite.” After a particularly nasty spat of bullying where the youngest Blum is knocked unconscious the boys in the neighbourhood decide that they have had enough and decide to take matters into their own hands. The police force are not being entirely helpful or sympathetic and it seems more dangerous for Jewish families to report abuse rather than keeping quiet and trying to deal with it themselves, in other words the bullying gets worse: “Call the police on every anti-Semite,” my mother said, “and they’ll need a separate force.”

The boys enlist the help of a Russian Jew, Boris, (who is somewhat of a hero to them as one of Russia’s oppressed people) to coach them in self-defence so that they will be able to fight back if required: “Boris told us to hold our ground. ‘Worst cases,’ he said, ‘raise hand like in defeat and kick for ball.'” The boys throw themselves diligently into their training, but don’t seem to be able to follow through or have the stomach for violence when required. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in this story (see previous quote!), and when the boys good-naturedly ask their friend Chung-Shik if they can practice terrorising him for a bit because he’s “different.” The things they learn through Boris don’t last that long unfortunately when he has to leave, and when Mrs Blum is attacked on her own drive, being mistaken for one of the younger Blums their plans for retaliation are forced into action. Well, even if this action has to come from an older, more violently-knowledgeable Jewish boy as their shield!

Although this isn’t my favourite story in the collection so far I still appreciated it as a good way to spend twenty minutes or so. I’m finding myself re-hashing the ending still in my own mind even though I’ve finished – the sign of a decent tale! I think it throws up some interesting questions about anti-semitism, while still remaining in its own way darkly humourous and leaves the reader wondering whether sinking down to the level of the bully is worth all the hassle. The only thing I wished for was a bit more explanation of the Jewish customs and traditions, but that’s purely my own ignorance and is definitely something I would research for my own enjoyment at a later date.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Of Mothers And Little People by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles


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