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Synopsis

THE ENGLISH DISEASE is a remarkable feat, a story that mixes the Marx brothers and Maimonides, pornographic yoga with Polish paranoia, and the brutality of kindergarten with the beauty of the Kiddush. It's the tale of Charles Belski, an expert in the works of Gustav Mahler, who, like Mahler himself, is talented and neurotic, and a nonpracticing Jew.

Belski suffers guilt over his own contribution to the decline of the Jewish religion, especially since he married a gentile and now has a gentile daughter. As if he can't conjure up enough angst on his own, his great-grandfather appears before him in a dream to admonish him for neglecting the obligations of his faith.

For Belski, the dilemma is how an assimilated intellectual can connect with an ancient and irrational (to him) religion without losing his sense of self. Is he the self-hating Jew that his obstreperous colleague pegs him for? Can his wife and daughter bully him into opening up his heart and letting in a little joy? Belski tries to come to grips with the meaninglessness of modern life, the demands of tradition, the nature of love and fidelity, and the true significance of the lyrics to Goodnight Irene.

Joseph Skibell has written a novel that is sad, funny, daring, and ultimately redemptive.

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