Customer Reviews


118 Reviews
5 star:
 (59)
4 star:
 (30)
3 star:
 (8)
2 star:
 (5)
1 star:
 (16)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


62 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, poignant, and very readable
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,...
Published on October 7, 2007 by Debra Hamel

versus
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.
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...
Published on August 9, 2008 by C.Vick


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

62 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, poignant, and very readable, October 7, 2007
By 
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. The book is a fast read and fascinating for the light it sheds on the lifestyle of the ultra-Orthodox and on Auslander in particular. It is both funny (with one of the most original acknowledgment pages you'll ever read) and poignant, especially when the author is describing his conflicted relationship with his father, whom he manages to portray as both unlikeable and tragic.

Auslander's book serves as a healthy reminder of the perverse influence of religion:

"Thousands of years ago, a terrified, half-made old man genitally mutilated his son, hoping it would buy him some points with the Being he hoped was running the show. Over the years, equally terrified men wrote blessings and composed prayers and devised rituals and ordained that an empty seat be left for Elijah. Six thousand years later, a father will not look his grandson in the face, and a mother and sister will defend such behavior, because the child wasn't mutilitated in precisely the right fashion.

"Come see what your sons are doing in the world."

The author is still not fully recovered from the effects of his religious instruction, but he's happier. It's just a shame that he had to waste so much energy and so much time undergoing that indoctrination and, in turn, in attempting to slough it off.

-- Debra Hamel
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Acidly Bitter Diatribe Not Flattering To YHWH: Smiting Imminent, July 19, 2009
This review is from: Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh-out loud funny, but strangely poignant as well, December 27, 2007
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read, May 4, 2008
By 
MGSWS (Toledo, OH USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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
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?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT LITERARY FIND!, March 6, 2008
I must say that this was my favorite book of all time. Finally an author who speaks to me! I cried when it ended. Looking forward to reading about his next 20 years! Shalom is funny, angry and intelligent. Well written to say the least. I laughed and felt wildly sad for him. Life throws some serious curve balls at us. Some fo us deal with them and fall apart, others deal with them and find humor in their reality. EXCELLENT READ! if I could give 100 stars I would!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A darkly humorous memoir. Did I mention dark?, March 9, 2008
By 
"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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One trick pony, November 4, 2009
This review is from: Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir (Paperback)
I read one of the stories from "Foreskin's Lament," in the New Yorker, prior to the publication of the book itself...

I was so stunned by the writing, the unerring rhythm of its telling and its language, the inerrant capturing of sight and sound, that I remember alerting a fair number of friends and relatives to its presence: "You MUST read this remarkable story !!
All agreed that it was a work of art wrapped in righteous indignation...and the greatest kind of humor: that makes you laugh and cry at the same time..

For those who are not Jewish, or for Jews who have grown up freed from the constraints of the religion altogether, by disillusioned parents (there are a lot of us) or with watered down versions that allow for lives not that different, religiously, from that of their fellow citizens in the Diaspora, much is revealed here.

For as funny and bitter Auslander is, the picture of tribal life is stark and real: Judaism is a demanding religion (when the 613 laws are observed to the letter) and the obsession with form (the endless rituals that go with) observance is often overly demanding and irrational... and the tribal elements are still so intrinsic to the religion that the combination of ethnic fears of "the others" and the time and energy it takes to be ritually observant combine to make normal life in the greater community virtually impossible.

Also the level of fantasy about what the outside world is really like is often crippling..
That Auslander was able to create his hilarious.. dangerously side-splitting saga.. of attending a forbidden hockey game at Madison Square Garden, many miles from his home, on the Sabbath when all forms of transportation other than one's legs are expressly forbidden as well, is testimony to his talent, what appeared to be his sensibility, and ability to be witheringly critical while at the same time having sympathy for what had reduced him to such a state of insanity ..
Now THAT's great writing...

And of course, I ordered the book from Amazon almost immediately, anxious to partake of the meal that had been suggested by the appetizer.. and waited impatiently for its arrival.
Alas, disappointment !
Sorry to say the rest of the stories were pallid, pedestrian, some even clumsy and uncertain.
Ordinary whining tales of children born into a world not of their choosing but who not only don't know how to get out of if other than by misbehaving, they don't really WANT to get out of it.. twisted by a combination of insecurity and an exceptionalism drummed into them in their clositered environment.

Sure the religion is a horror.... most religions that contract into uncritical orthodoxy are horrible, and wreak no improvement on the children or the adults who insist on their conforming...
And I don't blame Auslander for feeling bitter that as a man on the brink of middle age he still doesn't know how to deal with the trauma of his high strung environment while growing up.
But that is indeed a serious debility for an artist, for a writer.

On the other hand it HAS given him a subject and apparently his only one: it is hard to imagine Auslander growing into a great writer with a great talent for exploring the wide range of human experience, including the experience of being trapped by religion... not necessarily Judaism..
.
One last thing, for those who are not famiiar with what is a very significant religious detail: Auslander's family were not simply "Orthodox" Jews. (Mitnaged, as the Orthodox refer to themselves.)
That would be demanding enough... and has been addressed in many memoirs and novels...
The Auslanders were members of one of the various Chassidic sects.. (Satmars, perhaps, or Bobovers... really fanatic).. One or another of 14th or 15th century offshoots of Judaism that came to be in Eastern Europe, with their own sets of (fanatic) rules, clothing, habits...and who were virtually wiped out by the Nazis. between 1939 and 1945... Decimated, poverty stricken, displaced, homeless.

While they had some small recovery in post -war Europe, their greatest renaissance was here in the US.. Sects of varying numbers, all intense, febrile, with animosities toward one another as well as the outside world, and all led by their own Rebbes (Rabbis) to whom they owe the most intense unfaltering loyalty...
The Rebbe rules the roost... and as Auslander points out, the autonomy of parents, immutable in Judaism, including the culture, pales before the demands of the Rabbi.... what the Rabbi says goes... what these people, eat, read, do for entertainment, what they read or listen to, what they learn in school.
Of course the kids NEVER attend public schools, and usually they don't engage in sports... As boys grow up they even undertake as their lifetime jobs what the Rebbe suggest they should do.
So in that respect even the less well written, less artful stories in "Foreskin's Lament," are enlightening... if you are not taken aback by the unrelentingly sour tone,,,

Norma Manna Blum
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A reader's lament, May 24, 2012
By 
This review is from: Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bitter and Brilliant, April 20, 2009
This review is from: Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir (Paperback)
I completely enjoyed every page of this book. Auslander's unique book takes belief in God one-logical-step-too-far into obsessive narcissism which is both heartbreaking and hilarious. While nothing is scacred enough to escape Auslander's razor sharp pen, ultimately, it is himself Auslander rips to shreds. If you like David Sedaris, you'll probably love this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir
Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir by Shalom Auslander (Paperback - October 7, 2008)
$15.00 $9.49
Usually ships in 2 to 4 weeks
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.