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