By Jennifer Reese
Updated April 20, 2007 04:00 AM

Kaddish Poznan, a Jew in 1970s Argentina, makes his living by erasing the names of disreputable old-timers (Hezzi Two-Blades, One-Eye Weiss) from graves at the request of their upwardly mobile kin. Erasure — of epitaphs, noses, identity, and life itself — is the central motif in The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander’s surreal tale, which revolves around the disappearance of Kaddish’s son, Pato, nabbed by the military regime. Echoes of Franz Kafka and Isaac Bashevis Singer sound on each page. But unlike Englander’s acclaimed ’99 story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, his skillfully crafted novel — schematic, cerebral, and oddly chilly — doesn’t make music.