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Book Review: Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

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Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Aus­lan­der is a fic­tional book with lots of Jew­ish themes and humor. This is Mr. Auslander’s first novel, his pre­vi­ous books are Foreskin’s Lament and Beware of God.

Solomon Kugel moves his fam­ily to Stock­ton, New York, a town famous for noth­ing which is why Kugel likes it so much. Kugel hopes to begin again. How­ever, Kugel gets some­thing he didn’t bar­gain for, an elderly, foul mouthed Anne Frank liv­ing in his attic writ­ing a sequel to her book and a lunatic burn­ing down old farmhouses.

In the hilar­i­ous Hope: A Tragedy (#Hope­Tragedy) the author slaugh­ters many Jew­ish golden calves and in the process brought this car­ni­vore to tears. The main theme of this wacky book is the hope­less­ness of hope as well as the dan­ger of hop­ing for some­thing better.

There were so many funny ele­ments in this book I don’t even know where to start. Whether it’s the protagonist’s mother who has PTSD from the Holo­caust even though she was born and bred in New York, her ter­mi­nal ill­ness which never mate­ri­al­izes, a doc­tor who believes Hitler was the ulti­mate opti­mist, foul mouthed Anne Frank, or just some lines which, in con­text, had me laugh­ing out loud (that’s LOL for you younglings).

Mr. Auslander’s abil­ity to push the bru­tal­ity of dark humor is irrev­er­ent and remark­able. The char­ac­ters in the book turn old age words of wis­dom upside-down and back­wards which makes the reader laugh and think at the same time.

The writ­ing is in short sen­tences, but punchy at points. The cyn­i­cism flows off the pages, and the insane char­ac­ters which the novel brings together all work in its favor.

Mr. Aus­lan­der: you had me at the line “Blow me said Anne Frank”!

Reading this book, I remem­ber watch­ing an episode of The Sopra­nos when one of the Russ­ian girls tells Tony (played by James Gan­dolfini) that Amer­i­cans always expect some­thing good to hap­pen and get dis­ap­pointed when it doesn’t, while the rest of the world expects bad things to happen.

Books in a sim­i­lar vein:
The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Cen­turies of June by Keith Dono­hue
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essen­tially True by Brigid Pasulka
A Short His­tory of a Tall Jew by Den­nis Danziger

(Buy the book in paper or (Kindle) format from Amazon.com)

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About manoflabook

  • http://www.jewishbookweek.com/2012/hope.php Geraldine D’Amico

    Delighted you liked Shalom Auslander’s novel. Don’t miss him when he comes to Jewish Book Week in London