Hope A tragedy

Shalom Auslander

Book - 2012

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FICTION/Auslande Shalom
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New York : Riverhead Books 2012.
Physical Description
292 p. ; 24 cm
Main Author
Shalom Auslander (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Given his audaciously funny memoir, Foreskin's Lament (2007), it isn't surprising that Auslander's first novel is defiantly hilarious, but its riotous and downright sacrilegious satire wildly exceeds expectations. Solomon Kugel has moved his family out of the city and into an old upstate farmhouse. All should be idyllic, but Kugel's mother has delusions of being a Holocaust survivor, and the house is plagued with a terrible smell. Once Kugel, a champion worrier, whose psychoanalyst tells him that hope is a malady, discovers that a veritable Holocaust saint is living in his attic, life becomes antic and impossibly complicated. As his hapless hero tries to do right, Auslander orchestrates a mission of desecration. Spouting painfully nervy puns ("Auschwitz happens") and cracking bad jokes about gluten intolerance and how he wouldn't even have made it to "head shaving" in the camps, Kugel mocks the "Misery Olympics" of Jewish laments and demolishes the entire concept of remembrance. Along with its lacerating irreverence and tonic comedy of angst, Auslander's devilishly cunning, sure-to-be controversial novel poses profound questions about meaning, justice, truth, and responsibility. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Auslander, author of the edgy, well-received memoir Foreskin's Lament, returns with a first novel about a man who's moved his family to uneventful Stockton, NY. But there's an arsonist about, and in the attic he finds an ancient woman, arm tattooed, who claims to be Anne Frank. Acerbically smart and in-your-face daring; some readers will bridle. Ripe for attention. [Page 55]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Solomon Kugel is obsessed with death and what his last words will be. Having moved to the country for some peace and quiet, he discovers that he has a supposedly long-dead Holocaust victim living in his farmhouse attic. What's worse, he won't ask her to leave. He fears that as a Jew he will be ostracized for making a famous concentration camp victim homeless—never mind that he's discovered that the bad smell in the house is from her using the heating vents as her toilet. In this hilarious farce, we inhabit the musings of Kugel as he deals with what initially seems like a minor inconvenience in his home life. Soon, however, events spin out of control as he is injured, loses his job, and alienates his wife. VERDICT With underlying ghoulish humor—it's risky to engage lightheartedly with the Holocaust—Auslander provides a brisk narrative marked by a continuing parade of sharp, ironic asides as Kugel's life falls apart piece by piece. A darkly ambitious undertaking in absurdity that essentially mimics the problems of real life; recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA [Page 109]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Cultural anthropologists trying to figure out if there really is a recognizably Jewish voice and sense of humor, and if so, how it mixes and matches its key elements of self-deprecation, mordant compliance, hypochondria, and a total lack of surprise when disaster occurs, should consider Auslander's debut novel. The author's memoir, Foreskin's Lament, was about growing up in and leaving the Orthodox Jewish community; this novel's hero, Solomon Kugel, isn't observant, but he's still locked into a relationship with a God he "could never believe in... but he could never not believe in, either." And with a mother who insists she's a Holocaust survivor, major money problems, a farmhouse that's not only on the hit list of a local arsonist but also features an unwanted occupant in the attic, he's fully immersed in what Philip Roth (an obvious influence, down to a shared obsession with Anne Frank) once called "the incredible drama of being a Jew." Things start out hilarious and if the book wanes a bit as life keeps getting worse for Kugel, God's plaything, that's okay. As funny as it is, the novel is also a philosophical treatise, a response—ambivalent, irreverent, and almost certainly offensive to some—to the question of whether art and life are possible after the Holocaust, an examination of how to "never forget" without, as Kugel's infamous attic occupant puts it, "never shutting up about it." (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Deliberately relocating his family to an unremarkable rural town in New York in the hopes of starting over, Solomon Kugel finds his efforts challenged by his depressive mother, a local arsonist and the discovery of a believed-dead historical specimen hiding his attic. A first novel.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Relocating his family to an unremarkable rural town in New York in the hopes of starting over, Solomon Kugel must cope with his depressive mother, a local arsonist, and the discovery of a believed-dead historical specimen hiding in his attic.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A New York Times Notable Book 2012 The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his wife and young son there. To begin again. To start anew. But it isn’t quite working out that way for Kugel? His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won’t stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one Kugel bought, and when, one night, he discovers history?a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history?hiding upstairs in his attic, bad quickly becomes worse. Hope: A Tragedy is a hilarious and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, propelled with unstoppable rhythm and filled with existential musings and mordant wit. It is a comic and compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts that haunt our every present.