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

4 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (October 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489556
  • ASIN: B001C2E3NU
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,236,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
"Wow - they really did a number on you."

It's a line Auslander's wife and mine both say with a frightening regularity. Perhaps that's why I immediately resonated with this book, despite my lack of Orthodox Jew-ness, growing up in a completely different environment (West Virginia instead of New York) and other massive differences.

Then again, I was raised Catholic and have worn a Flying Spaghetti Monster T-shirt to Mass. Under a sweater, just in case someone (human or divine) noticed and decided to strike me down.

The humor I found was not the humor of slapstick or manners. It is the humor of deep, dark irony. It's the wry smile as the last thing that could go wrong *does* go wrong.

This is a darkly humorous book, and painfully honest. The zingers are real - but they apply to you more than you think.

You can either laugh or cry.

One thing is for sure.

God is laughing. Even if He doesn't exist.
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Format: Paperback
I see some reviews that touch on why I disliked this book, but none that fully encompass it, so here's my take. I'm agnostic but was raised catholic, so I was hoping that I'd end up reading a (more extreme) parallel story to my upbringing, pointing out the absurdities of organized religion. I envisioned this being told in a humorous way by a post-religious adult who survived his orthodoxy with some wit and common sense intact. That's not what this book is about. Only a fraction of the book is about childhood and questioning religion at all. It's primarily about a teenager-later-adult who lives in fear of having any control or responsibility over his own actions. He uses judaism and god to try to explain away having no self-control and generally being an insufferable neurotic. I'm unclear still as to whether I was supposed to like, hate, or pity this man. Maybe all the talk about his parentage is supposed to make him sympathetic? A bad childhood isn't carte blanche to be deplorable, but you'll watch him pass the buck for 300 pages.
So I've covered that it's aimlessly angry. It's also poorly written. The prose borders on stream of consciousness in the worst possible ways (characters mutter and make noises in a way that I think is supposed to progress the story but fails at the task). But probably the worst element is that this exercise is ultimately pointless. He's still a practicing jew living in constant shame with his neuroses to this day. There's not even a how or why regarding how he can remain in the fold, just muttered expletives and this sense of dread for the reader that he's perpetuating the same crap on his own kids. Maybe not orthodoxy, but certainly passive fatalism and extreme self-obsession. Very frustrating, beginning to end.
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