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Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel [Hardcover]

Shalom Auslander
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 17 2012

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.


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Review

"A virtuoso humorist, and a brave one: beware Shalom Auslander; he will make you laugh until your heart breaks.” – New York Times Book Review

“A caustic comic tour de force.” – NPR

“Poisonously funny…. Like an unintentional bark of laughter at a funeral.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Staggeringly nervy… Other fiction writers have gotten this fresh with Anne Frank. But they don’t get much funnier… [Auslander] is an absurdist with a deep sense of gravitas… 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.”  – New York Times

“Shalom Auslander writes like some contemporary comedic Jeremiah, thundering warnings of disaster and retribution. What makes him so terrifyingly funny is that he isn’t joking.” — Howard Jacobson, author of The Finkler Question and winner of the Man Booker Prize

“A wonderful, twisted, transgressive, heartbreaking, true, and hugely funny book. It will make very many people very angry. It will also make very many people very happy.” — A. L. Kennedy, author of Day

“Can the darkest events of the twentieth century and of all human history be used to show the folly of hope? And can the result be so funny that you burst out laughing again and again? If you doubt this is possible, read Hope: A Tragedy. You won’t regret it.” — John Gray, author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
 


About the Author

Shalom Auslander was raised in Monsey, New York. Nominated for the Koret Award for writers under thirty-five, he has published articles in Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Tablet, The New Yorker, and has had stories aired on NPR's This American Life. Auslander is the author of the short story collection Beware of God and the memoir Foreskin's Lament. He lives in New York City. To learn more about Shalom Auslander, please visit www.shalomauslander.com.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An unpredictable, hysterical, tragicomic romp of a novel with a most antipathetic
protagonist who finds Anne Frank hiding in his attic & against all odds attempts to keep her alive until she is able to complete her book!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  105 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dark, dark, dark Jan. 17 2012
By Daffy Du - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I really, really wanted to love this book. Auslander's Foreskin's Lament is one of the funniest books I've ever read--it had me laughing out loud over and over again--so I had high hopes for his first novel. But Hope: A Tragedy reads like a cross between Franz Kafka and Woody Allen, with all the worst excesses of each, and I was, unfortunately, disappointed.

I should hasten to add that I'm a huge fan of irreverence and not at all opposed to dark humor, which this book has in spades. It's just that Hope: A Tragedy is so over the top that it eventually lost me. Auslander keeps playing the same bits over and over again, and while they may have been amusing the first or second time, by the fourth or fifth, all I could do was roll my eyes.(I'm thinking specifically of his hero, Solomon's, habit of putting store-bought vegetables in his demented mother's garden patch each morning to fool her into thinking she'd grown them, as well as the incessant references to the smell accompanying the unwanted house guest camped out in the attic, and his mother's endless faux references to being a Holocaust survivor.) Although I kept reading, the book started wearing on me to the point where I just wanted to finish it and move on.

I know from Foreskin's Lament what an extraordinarily gifted writer Auslander is, and I'll look forward to his future efforts, but this one didn't work for me.
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing experience. Not enough superlatives for this book. Jan. 15 2012
By Just saying - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Humor and horror. Wise and weird. Real and surreal. You name a paradox and this book owns it. I couldn't put it down, except when I had to just stop and think about it. Then I went back for more. My opinion in context: I have worked for 5 years now in a Jewish institution. I work with Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and the American Jews who witnessed from afar. I am a WASP by birth and an atheist by intellect. This book let me understand the paranoia that intelligent Jewish professionals who have no direct connection to the Holocaust tell me that they feel, that they imagine coming, and that they almost expect. It explains--without explaining--so many things I have tried to understand. It is a ladder up into an attic in the heads of every Jew I have met--and I believe it has given me a glimmer of understanding. As an atheist, this is a tour de force of my own strange attic. What a book.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars obsessed with bodily functions Feb. 9 2012
By Zeldie Stuart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was hoping this book would be as good as "Foreskin's Lament" but I was terribly disappointed. "Hope" is a boring non stop kvetchy psychosis of Kugel (the main character) who is the stereotype of a worrisome, thinks too much nerdy Jewish Man with the classic affliction of celiac disease and a god awful Mother. There is nothing appealing about this character or any character in this book. Even the 3 year old son is portrayed as a sickly screaming unattractive child. The book starts with a promising premise; that Anne Frank survived and has been hiding out in attics all this time. Kugel finds her in the attic of the home he just purchased. Anne is now an old ugly mean bag of bones who stinks up the house. Kugel, his Mother and Anne are forever having bowel movements in the wrong places. Not pleasant at all. Then some nasty throw up session is added to make the book even more disgusting then it already is. Why Kugel's wife stays as long as she does is beyond me or any reader. Take Philip Roth's character's and Woody Allen at their possible worst without any intelligence or humor and you have this book. Seriously awful.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth the Extremes Feb. 19 2012
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are definitely things to like about this book. The set-up is worthy of a great novel--Solomon Kugel moves his family to a rural New York town where he is not only a fish out of water but he also discovers Anne Frank living in his attic. Mr. Auslander clearly has skills as a comic writer and creates some very funny moments: Kugel's encounters with the Messerschmidts (who know about Anne in the attic) and Eve, the real estate broker, stand out, as well as Kugel's time in the workplace where he sells for EnviroSolutions, a recycling company. Kugel's search for what he wants to be his last words is a running theme through the novel that also generates some funny moments and a historical review of some famous last words.

Unfortunately, Mr. Auslander's comic skills are not enough to save Hope: A Tragedy. There are numerous problems here but the biggest is that there is not a single really likeable character in the book. Anne Frank is a foul-mouthed terror, Kugel's mother labors under the fantasy of being a Holocaust survivor, the townspeople around Kugel are all liars, cheats, and/or arsonists. His wife is understandable, at least, but hard to sympathize with since Kugel is the center of the novel.

As for Kugel himself, the reader cannot sympathize with him either. Auslander seems to want to make him sympathetic but his decision-making process is so ridiculous that he is unbelievable. Kugel wants to have hope for the future, for his family, which is admirable. His shrink, Jove (what's in a name?), constantly advises him to forget hope, forget happiness, and just get on with life. But why are having hope and getting on with life mutually exclusive? A few simple decisions--put his mother in a home, go to work on a regular basis, throw Anne out of the attic--and his problems would be under control. But he can't seem to do any of this for reasons that don't seem realistic. Auslander mines some good tragedio-comedy with Kugel putting food in his mother's garden and buying supplies for Anne, but it's not enough. If the comic effect or the ending (which is horrible) were worth the effort, it would be possible to suspend disbelief, but in a novel that has you pulling for Kugel, he ends up being a horrible disappointment.

When it comes right down to it this novel is not a disaster but it, like so many others, is a chance wasted. It feels like too many attempts to force humor by pushing characters to extremes, rather than letting humor and true tragedy arise from strong, believable characters. Mr. Auslander is a writer of obvious talents, but they don't seem to be on best display here.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explorations of post-Holocaust morality. Jan. 23 2012
By A. Conzevoy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the most brutal depiction I have ever read of a martyr complex. If you are interested in that and how guilt is used and abused, you should *definitely* read this book.

One of the other reviewers compared this to a cross of Kafka and Woody Allen. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. This "novel" reads more like an extended fable to me.

Disclaimer: I was tempted to give this only four stars for not being funny to me, but, I think it's only fair to judge a book by what it is, rather than what I want it to be (and apparently some other people find it funny). Just don't think that this is at all like Beware of God or to a lesser extent Foreskin's Lament though there is some thematic overlap.
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