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Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir Hardcover – October 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Auslander, a magazine writer, describes his Orthodox Jewish upbringing as theological abuse in this sardonic, twitchy memoir that waits for the other shoe to drop from on high. The title refers to his agitation over whether to circumcise his soon to be born son, yet another Jewish ritual stirring confusion and fear in his soul. Flitting haphazardly between expectant-father neuroses in Woodstock, N.Y., and childhood neuroses in Monsey, N.Y., Auslander labors mightily to channel Philip Roth with cutting, comically anxious spiels lamenting his claustrophobic house, off-kilter family and the temptations of all things nonkosher, from shiksas to Slim Jims. The irony of his name, Shalom (Hebrew for peace), isn't lost on him, a tormented soul gripped with dread, fending off an alcoholic, abusive father while imagining his heavenly one as a menacing, mocking, inescapable presence. Fond of tormenting himself with worst-case scenarios, he concludes, That would be so God. Like Roth's Portnoy, he commits minor acts of rebellion and awaits his punishment with youthful literal-mindedness. But this memoir is too wonky to engage the reader's sympathy or cut free Auslander's persona from the swath of stereotype—and he can't sublimate his rage into the cultural mischief that brightens Roth's oeuvre. That said, a surprisingly poignant ending awaits readers. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Shalom Auslander, author of Beware of God: Stories (2005) and a contributor to This American Life, reveals his ambivalence about God through fear, black humor, and undirected anger. If Foreskin’s Lament sounds like a terrible rage against God, it is, in parts, but it coalesces into a fascinating reflection on the role of faith and ritual in modern life. Most reviewers found Auslander’s stories about his tormented life refreshing, moving, and humorousâ€"for example, the story of his father building an ark for the synagogue, only to be ostracized, struck a high note. However, a few criticized Auslander’s tendency to mask real anger and deep questions with comedy. Beneath the humor, however, lies a reflective memoir on religion’s powerful holdâ€"and why, sometimes, it’s so hard to shake it off.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (October 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489556
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594489556
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #824,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on October 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Shalom Auslander grew up in the 1970s and 80s in Monsey, New York, in an Orthodox Jewish family, with all that entailed: the arcana of kosher dietary restrictions; the uniform of the Orthodox Jew--tzitzis and peyis and yarmulke; the mind-numbing bordeom of Sabbath, when most worthwhile human activitiy is forbidden by Jewish law.

"It was forbidden to watch TV, it was forbidden to write, it was forbidden to draw, it was forbidden to color. It was forbidden to play with trains because they used electricity. It was forbidden to play with Legos because it was considered building. It was forbidden to play with Silly Putty because if you pressed it against a newspaper it would transfer some of the ink to itself, and so it was considered printing."

More specifically, Auslander grew up in an unhappy Orthodox Jewish family. His father was belligerent and volatile and given to threats involving amputation. His mother wallowed in misery and home decorating. It's hardly surprising that in adulthood Auslander has complicated relationships with both his family and God, the latter an angry entity who, much like Auslander's father, specializes in inconsistent and disproportionate punishments. But Auslander still believes. He believes, for example, that God keeps a particularly careful eye on his misdemeanors, and he is always expecting God to screw him over.

Auslander writes about his fallings-out with both family and God in his very readable memoir Foreskin's Lament. (The reason for the title is made clear about halfway through the book.) He describes the various ways he acted out against both as a teenager; his back-and-forthing on the question of keeping kosher; his self-imposed, frankly shocking acts of penance.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Zachary T. Patten on December 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a non-Jewish atheist, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to relate to this book by a formerly Orthodox Jewish man who still believes in God, despite harboring intense vitriol toward Him. But because Auslander's memoir juxtaposes deadpan humor with heartbreaking vignettes of oppressive family life, even the outsider can't help but be drawn in. From the sins of eating non-Kosher Slim Jims to the great struggle alluded to by the book's title, the author does more than introduce us to the culture of his youth, he envelops us in it. As we come to know the protagonist and his relations, we begin to brace ourselves when Auslander's abusive father raises an eyebrow, and feel pangs of guilt when his mother invokes the Holocaust to coerce her son into being more observant. In the end, we find ourselves hoping the author will somehow find peace of mind, or at least another book deal.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MGSWS on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the most disturbing books I have read in a long time. That is not a bad thing. I wonder if I would have the gumption to bare my life and my soul the way Mr. Auslander has in this story. He spares no detail. In fact, it is more of a personal exegesis than a story. Although it focuses on the idiosyncrasies of growing up in an orthodox Jewish environment, what he says is applicable to any similar theologically literal upbringing. I know Catholics who could tell similar stories, and some fringe evangelical Christians too. I recommend this book. It is unforgettable.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By C.Vick on August 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book. I heard an interview in which Auslander read the first page or so, and thought it sounded really funny. As someone that grew up in what was, at times, an overbearing religious environment and a semi-dysfunctional home, I was sure I could understand, and laugh along with him.

But my, oh my, Auslander is angry. Very, very angry. And more so than the humor, this is what permeated this book for me. In many places, it completely washed out the humor.

Don't get me wrong, he's a funny man and knows how to turn a phrase for comic effect. There were moments I really, really enjoyed, and even one or two that made me laugh out loud. (Who names their kid peace?)

But I guess I was expecting something more like David Sedaris -- a man who really knows how to make the most of a screwed up and depressing situation.

Foreskin's Lament just left me uncomfortable, and possibly worried about Shalom's blood pressure. You just can't hang on to anger like that, can you?
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chris Ward VINE VOICE on July 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm a goy, and thankfully so if Shalom Auslander is any indication of what it's like to be raised in a very observant Jewish household. Of course, there are religiously insane Christians who are just as batty as Auslander's parents and teachers and rabbis, but you wouldn't want to meet them. The author has turned his childhood and adolescent torment into some of the most cutting humor you'll ever read. No one is spared: not himself, not his family, not his religion, and especially not his god. God is the bad guy here, and the knock-down drag-out battle between him ( I mean Him ) and Auslander is not pretty-- but I laughed anyway.

Auslander is very good. If you want an appetizer to see if you'll enjoy this, dig up his previous collection BEWARE OF GOD. Each invective-laden story is a miniature jewel.

I look forward to reading what he does next, if God doesn't strike him down with lightning in the meantime.
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