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Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

Shalom Auslander
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)


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Book Description

October 4, 2007
Shalom Auslander was raised with a terrified respect for God. Even as he grew up and was estranged from his community, his religion and its traditions, he could not find his way to a life where he didn't struggle against God daily.

Foreskin's Lament reveals Auslander's youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. Auslander remembers his youthful attempt to win the "blessing bee" (the Orthodox version of a spelling bee), his exile to an Orthodox-style reform school in Israel after he's caught shoplifting Union Bay jeans from the mall, and his fourteen mile hike to watch the New York Rangers play in Madison Square Garden without violating the Sabbath. Throughout, Auslander struggles to understand God and His complicated, often contradictory laws. He tries to negotiate with God and His representatives-a day of sin-free living for a day of indulgence, a blessing for each profanity. But ultimately, Shalom settles for a peaceful cease-fire, a standoff with God, and accepts the very slim remaining hope that his newborn son might live free of guilt, doubt, and struggle.

Auslander's combination of unrelenting humor and anger--one that draws comparisons to memoirists David Sedaris and Dave Eggers--renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith, family, and community.

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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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (October 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489556
  • ASIN: B001C2E3NU
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,671,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, poignant, and very readable 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh-out loud funny, but strangely poignant as well 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
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read May 4, 2008
By MGSWS
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
2.0 out of 5 stars As his wife says, they really did a number on him. 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny & realistic
This book gives you a very good insight into the jewish religion with a great sense of humor.
Published 27 days ago by Helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Jackie Mason on speed
Has Jewish humour developed as a protective response to centuries of persecution? Perhaps. But what Shalom Auslander’s excellent memoir suggests is that persecution may be as much... Read more
Published 3 months ago by W. Albert
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommend.
Very entertaining...made me laugh out loud several times!
Highly recommend.
Published 4 months ago by Coleen collings
1.0 out of 5 stars Like Father, Like Son
The author's father is an alcoholic with a violent temper and foul mouth, living in an inferior position as a carpenter in an Orthodox Jewish community, married to a woman whose... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Richard Zeile
4.0 out of 5 stars You might have to be Jewish
This is not great literature, but it is a great read. I finished the book in two seatings. It hit me sometimes very close to home so that it was painful rather than comical, but... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Eliot Marx
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
Very funny and personal. I'm usually a slow reader, but I went through this book quickly, and I find myself thinking about it from time to time even long after I have finished it.
Published 6 months ago by Sarah
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Interesting story of how one man's religious upbringing continues to affect his outlook on life. Surprisingly strong, honest language. Funny and heartbreaking all at once.
Published 6 months ago by Mel Goulis
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun but at the same time thought provoking
I loved reading about Auslander's thoguhts and dilemas about God and his Religion. I thought he was brave and by no means silly with all his questions and hesitations. Read more
Published 6 months ago by A. Q. Jané
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Funny
This was a very funny book. We read it in our book group and most people thought the same. Some people, older women, did not get the book as well.
Published 8 months ago by David Berck
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Shalom Auslander is brilliant. His writing is raw and self reflective, and so honest. I love this book and his novel, Hope: A Tragedy.
Published 10 months ago by Rosalie
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Auslander
yes. Part of this book was published in the New Yorker recently.
Jul 5, 2007 by Macabee |  See all 2 posts
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