four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
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0

736966.pngNew York native Shalom Auslander has lampooned his Orthodox Jewish upbringing in a collection of short stories, Beware of God (2005), and a memoir, Foreskin’s Lament ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008). His work has also appeared in Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, and the New Yorker. Hope is his first novel.

The Story: To protect his family from the modern world, compost salesman Solomon Kugel uproots his troubled wife, sickly son, and senile mother from their Brooklyn home to a farmhouse in upstate New York. Just as they are settling in, strange sounds and an awful smell lead Solomon to discover a squatter in the attic—none other than famed diarist Anne Frank, alive and well, though spiteful and foul-mouthed. She has spent the last 60 years working on a novel, and Solomon finds himself hard-pressed, even as a secular Jew, to throw her out. Caught between his family and the harridan living upstairs, Solomon’s already precarious mental state begins to deteriorate.
Riverhead. 304 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 978159448382

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Part Sholom Aleichem, part Woody Allen, part homage to Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, it is a story of neurotic Jews, the problem of memory and the solace of suffering. ‘It’s funny,’ begins the novel, and it is. As long as you like your comedy pitch black." Anne Trubek

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s an absurd, and risky, premise, but Auslander isn’t just rooting around for shock value; he turns his character’s unwanted occupant into a nasty symbol of guilt and the inconvenience of history. … Taken as a whole, Hope: A Tragedy is like an unintentional bark of laughter at a funeral: an inappropriate, instinctive reaction to something perhaps too horrible to respond to in any other way." Keith Staskiewicz

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a tall order for Mr. Auslander to raise an essentially comic novel to this level of moral contemplation. Yet Hope: A Tragedy succeeds shockingly well. For every stroke of facetiousness here—the novel suggests that the Amazon customer who buys Anne Frank’s diary will be told ‘You might also like’ books about Rwanda, the starving of Ukraine and ‘Pol Pot’s Bloody Reign’—there is a laceratingly tough appraisal of the way suffering is made holy." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Once the discovery of the undead Anne is made, the action becomes frenetic, as Kugel blunders like a hagridden Basil Fawlty from humiliation to disgrace. Here the reader might succumb to whiplash from the pace of the narrative were not Auslander such a master of comic timing." Steve Stern

Onion AV Club 4 of 5 Stars
"Such absurdity seems impossible to take seriously, but Auslander manages the impressive trick of making the book seem literal just long enough to make the metaphors palatable. Likewise, Auslander’s supremely readable style and wicked humor make everything in the book go down easy, even when it’s morbid, absurd, offensive, or all three." Rowan Kaiser

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What Auslander addresses is the fallacy of narrative—or its limitations, at any rate. Still, in the end, this remains the novel’s one abiding problem, that its narrative never fully resonates." David L. Ulin

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At their most provocative, Auslander’s ruminations and his clever inversions of conventional wisdom can challenge readers to re-examine opinions they probably take for granted, particularly regarding how the history of the Holocaust is remembered and taught. … Indeed, Hope: A Tragedy winds up succeeding less as a powerful, unified and philosophically rigorous work of art than it does as a series of sporadically effective comic sketches." Adam Langer

Critical Summary

Described as "willfully outrageous, a black humorist with an Old Testament moralist’s heart" by the Los Angeles Times, Auslander has penned a provocative and hilarious novel that questions a central tenet of Jewish history and culture: the Holocaust. Many readers will no doubt be offended by Hope: A Tragedy. Auslander pushes the envelope with his grotesque portrayal of Anne Frank and his irreverent treatment of everything else. However, his narrative—by turns shocking, uproarious, and poignant—explores the futility of faith and the pointlessness of living, and, in so doing, challenges readers to reexamine what they think they know. Off-putting? Perhaps. Hope: A Tragedy may not be to everyone’s taste, but those who venture into this warped tragicomedy will find a stunning debut novel by a rising talent.