Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: "Hope: A Tragedy" by Shalom Auslander

I feel weird writing on my opinions of Shalom Auslander’s debut novel Hope: A Tragedy, since I am in no way Jewish. But before that, I would like to say that I loved it. It was a refreshing book that came along at the write time for me in my chaotic and ambiguous life. I feel I must be honest with myself, and admit that for someone who has a lot of scary anger and rage inside him right now, this book felt like a warm hug. It is not a book for everyone, that is for sure. Some will find it appalling and offensive, while other will find it too ironic, to self-indulgent, merely the ramblings of a fashionably cynical man. But I am also sure that everyone will find it funny. The Philip Roth comparison on the back of the book is very apt. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Mickey Sabbath and his theater of perversions, which I had the pleasure of reading earlier this year. But even Roth has his limits, Auslander does not. He takes every taboo about his people, every crime they have been accused of, every crime that they have been a victim of, and shines the brightest light possible on them, and makes jokes from beginning to end. I am in a quandary with many of the ideas Auslander presents: on one hand, they seem painfully true, the way they expose many of our shortcomings, but he doesn’t offer any levity within a given situation, making them seem brutal and nihilistic. It is important to see them as strictly satirical, and meant to invoke deeper thinking on his given subjects. The novel tells the story of Solomon Kugel, an urbanite from NYC who moves to the small town of Stockton, a town “famous for nothing”, after misreading the advice given to him by his therapist, Professor Jove, easily the worst therapist you will ever come across, who sites hope as the leading cause of most people’s misery; give up hope and you’ll be happy. As he moves in, he hears tapping coming from the attic at night. He goes up to investigate, and finds Anne Frank, the Anne Frank, living up there. She isn’t the little girl we all know from her famous diary: she is a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, thought-to-be dead part of history that comes to ruin Solomon’s life. Through this creative device, Auslander lampoons not only the ways in which Jews hang onto the past, but our overall need to define ourselves by the accomplishment of our ancestors. This is further fleshed out through Solomon’s dying mother, who brings up the horrors of the Holocaust every time she can, even though she didn’t even live through it. Auslander has crafted a brilliant, if a bit pessimistic look at the ways we are driven to change ourselves, but continuously held back by external circumstances, such as family and the world at large. While I can’t say the same for anyone else, I can say that I found something eloquent and entertaining in this book.

Rating: 5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment