Shalom Auslander - Hope: A Tragedy (5 stars)

Helen Schulman - This Beautiful Life

Probably the funniest book that’s ever going to be written about the Holocaust

(Picador)

This is probably the funniest book that’s ever going to be written about the Holocaust. But then Shalom Auslander has previous experience of laugh-out-loud writings about Jewish guilt, paranoia, misery and self-loathing. His short story collection (Beware of God) and memoir (Foreskin’s Lament – awesome title) were outrageous, satirical and wildly funny yet also filled with pathos: this debut novel fits that description precisely.

Hope: A Tragedy opens with Solomon Kugel having moved into a rural farmhouse just outside New York with his wife and young son, in an effort to find some peace of mind. But it isn’t quite working out as he’d planned, because an arsonist has begun burning farmhouses in the area. That proves the least of Kugel’s worries, though, when he finds a decrepit, ancient, foul-mouthed Anne Frank hiding in his attic. Yes, you read that correctly. The young girl famous for her war diary didn’t die in a concentration camp, but escaped and has spent a lifetime in self-imposed seclusion, working on a novel. What to do? Kugel can’t throw her out: just think of the headlines if a Jew threw Anne Frank out of his house?

Auslander uses this audacious set-up to delve deep into the way we live our lives in the wake of terrible events. This is a book about the struggle between pessimism and optimism, between hope and despair, and between the urge to engage with the world and the desire to hide away from it. All of which is delivered in a hilarious storyline that provides as many gags per minute as a Jackie Mason stand-up set. Brilliant stuff.

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Comments

1. Hugh71 Feb 2012, 10:41pm Report

"Foreskin's Lament" may be an awesome title, but it is not original. It was a hit New Zealand play written by Greg McGee in 1980, revived (in what sounds like an indifferent production) at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008.

[Spoiler:] The play culminates with the eponymous lead character (based on someone McGee knew whose real name was Fawcett) powerfully lamenting his loss of innocence and his decision to give up Rugby football after a friend is killed in a game by an ambitious teammate.

Non-therapeutic circumcision has been abandoned in New Zealand (with no ill-effects) and the nickname and the title have lost any power they had in 1980. A television version ("Skin and Bones") dropped the reference.

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