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


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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