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Hope: a Tragedy: A Novel Paperback – December 31, 2012
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“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. He brings to mind Woody Allen, Joseph Heller and – oxymoron here – a libido-free version of Philip Roth… 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 is my kind of Jew — an unapologetically paranoid, guilt-ridden, self-loathing Diaspora kvetch, enraged by a God he can’t live with or without. While others of his generation may mine the tradition for a fond retrieval of forgotten lore, Auslander throws stones at the fiddler on the roof. He’s a black comic who’s alloyed the manic existential shtick of Lenny Bruce with the gallows humor that’s been a staple of the repertoire since the Babylonian Exile…. He is patently not good for the Jews…. A virtuoso humorist, and a brave one: beware Shalom Auslander; he will make you laugh until your heart breaks.” – New York Times Book Review
“Absurdist, hilarious … Part Sholom Aleichem, part Woody Allen, part homage to Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, it is a story of neurotic Jews, the problem of memory and the solace of suffering. "It's funny," begins the novel, and it is…. To hope, we must misremember. So we build structures of misremembering: We build fictions. Auslander's first novel, Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel is a beautiful one.” -- Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An irreverent (and how!), dark (to say the least), hilarious novel about a man who finds a beloved historical figure hiding in his attic.” -- O, the Oprah Magazine
“A caustic comic tour de force.” -- NPR
“There is an admirable fearlessness to Shalom Auslander’s writing . . . [His] ruminations and his clever inversions of conventional wisdom can challenge readers to re-examine opinions they probably take for granted, particularly regarding how the history of the Holocaust is remembered and taught.” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Scabrously funny…. Willfully outrageous, a black humorist with an Old Testament moralist’s heart… Angry, funny, shocking even, writing that strips away the niceties” – Los Angeles Times
“Poisonously funny…. Like an unintentional bark of laughter at a funeral.” – Entertainment Weekly
“The real tragedy would be to miss out on [this] debut novel, brimming with dark humor.” Entertainment Weekly’s Must List
“Blends tragedy, comedy and satire in the mold of Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka.” – Wall Street Journal
“Grimly comic… relentlessly entertaining.” – Boston Globe
“Very funny; there is something very Wile E. Coyote about the ridiculous oppression that pursues Kugel… Vivid and very hard to stop thinking about.” – Forward
“The darkest of dark comedies. It’s as uncomfortably hilarious as it is shockingly offensive… Equal parts Philip Roth and Franz Kafka.” – Columbus Dispatch
“Brilliant… [An] open space for Auslander’s wild talent for gorgeously timed staccato rhythms.” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Hilariously bitter and gloriously insensitive.” – WSJ.com
“There are echoes of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and even Franz Kafka in this wildly original novel. And yet with Hope: A Tragedy, Auslander has created a story that’s uniquely his, with something in it to offend, enlighten and ultimately touch just about anyone.” -- BookPage
“Cultural anthropologists trying to figure out if there really is a recognizably Jewish voice and sense of humor, and if so, how it mixes and matches its key elements of self-deprecation, mordant compliance, hypochondria, and a total lack of surprise when disaster occurs, should consider Auslander’s debut novel….As funny as it is, the novel is also a philosophical treatise, a response—ambivalent, irreverent, and almost certainly offensive to some—to the question of whether art and life are possible after the Holocaust, an examination of how to ‘never forget’ without, as Kugel’s infamous attic occupant puts it, ‘never shutting up about it.’” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (December 31, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594486468
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594486463
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #615,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book is about a tragic character named Kugel who buys a farmhouse out in the country in a small city named Stockton where he and his wife and young son live. Soon after his mother comes to live with them and soon after that they find a mysterious person living in the attic of their new home. I won't give away who it is but to any reader of Holocaust literature, you will recognize this person. The story quickly goes from bad to worse as Kugel's life literally starts falling apart from the minute he meets his new attic houseguest.
I thought the language in the book was incredibly funny. I do wonder a bit if people who are not Jewish or people who did not grow up surrounded by Jews would find the book as funny as I did. For sure not everyone will get the humor. I mean does everyone in the world know who Abraham Foxman is? I guess most people do know Elie Weisel whose name appears in the book numerous times. Incredibly funny book that I highly recommend. I will likely read his other book now.
This book is similar. The main character, Solomon Kugel, has just moved into a new house with his wife and young son and his annoying mother who the doctors have "promised" will die any time now. His mother is obsessed with the holocaust and continually tries to tell everybody how much she suffered (even though she was really in the states at the time). Kugel is himself fixated on death, in finding an attic to hide in when "they" come to get the Jews, and in finding the perfect last words to say before he dies. Some of the last words he quotes from historical figures are quite funny. I don't want to spoil anything but the major twist concerns him finding an extremely surprising person living in his attic.
The book is often funny but I believe that Auslander tells the same handful of jokes too often. It's like a SNL skit that gets turned into a full length movie. This plot was reasonable but did exactly zip along. I noted that he also has a collection of short stories that might be worth trying. I recommend this book but with reservations.
Here's two bits from the book that give you the idea:
Why did the chicken cross the road? Professor Jove had asked him. I don't know, said Kugel. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he was a schmuck, said Professor Jove. I don't get it, said Kugel. The chicken crossed the road, said Professor Jove, for the same reason we all cross roads--because he thought that there might be something better on the other side. Tell me, Mr. Chicken: there are no wars on the other side of the road? There is no suffering, no divorce, no failure? No hunger, no disease, no tears, no pain? They don't commit genocide on that side of the road, Mr. Chicken? On the other side of the road parents don't bury their children, sons and daughters always get the love they need, men and women don't grow old and bitter and die of regret?
Two and a half thousand years later, it was becoming undeniably apparent that an unexamined life is the only one worth living. Examined lives tended to end hanging by the neck in the shower. Life examiners tended to go out sucking on the barrel of a shotgun.
Top reviews from other countries
When I think back to the experience of reading this book, I recall basically enjoying it and being very amused by its rather mordant humour. It concerns Kugal, a Jewish man who moves with his wife and small son and his ailing mother into a farmhouse in an obscure American town/village where nothing has ever happened ever. He has a paying lodger but discovers that the house has a long term squatter in the attic, who says that she is Anne Frank.
I have read Anne Frank's diary and know that in some middle East countries that it is banned, mainly because it humanises Holocaust victims rather than letting them be seen as anonymous victims. Holocaust Deniers are keen to try and prove that the diary is a forgery, I imagine, for similar reasons. The Anne frank in this book is very old and smelly. She smells like a toilets where other toilets go to the toilet. She is also very bad tempered and sweary. Her time is spent writing a book in the attic.
Initially, Kugel keeps the news of this to himself but gradually reveals this incredible story to the person who sold him the house, to the estate agent and finally to his family. His mother's reaction is the funniest. Despite the fact that she has had a safe life in the USA, he identification with Jewish suffering in Nazi occupied Europe leads her to claim that she too is a Holocaust survivor.
For Kugel, the experience leads to great reflection with his therapist of the nature of hope, hence the book's title.
It is a very funny book but one that also gets the reader thinking.
What to expect: present day, a New York state countryside where Solomon Kugel buys an old farm house and moves in his family including his lovely wife, 3 year old son and cranky old mother (the Holocaust survivor, or is she?). If I could I would not reveal who, as Kugel discovers, is responsible for the horrid smell in his new old house. But I guess it is impossible with all the other reviews. Another survivor is living in his attic, tap-tap-tapping away at her new novel, to match (if not to outsell) her debut (which sold over 30 million copies worldwide).
Original and well written, but too many repetitions, too much swearing and I did not laugh out loud once (despite finding it all pretty amusing). Three and a half stars. Actually, four stars, I am feeling generous.
This novel could be terrible - in some ways, it almost should be terrible. However, it is, in fact, wickedly funny and very moving. Solomon Kugel is just a terrific character, trying to appease his wife, tolerate his mother and her odd ways and decide what to do about Anne Frank. Can he throw an "elderly, half-mad Holocaust survivor out of his house?" Add in the fact that an arsonist is torching lovely farmhouses in the area where he has just brought, you guessed it, a farmhouse, and you have a funny and thought provoking read.
A man he doesn’t know comes up to him.
“You Goldstein?” the man asks.
Goldstein looks at the man he doesn’t know.
“Not necessarily,” Goldstein replies.
If you get this, you will love Hope. A Tragedy.
You may even love it if you don’t get it.
But I wouldn’t put much money on it.
After a recent diet of ‘serious’ books, this one is a welcome relief.
Lots of painfully hilarious profound observations.
Up--to-date Borsht Belt funny.
Even the hero’s name ‘Kugel’ is perfect.
Takes the safe bad taste of The Producers to a wonderful new low.
Laughed ‘til I plotzed.
Did I laugh out loud? Nope. But I grinned occasionally like mad.
This is not a "funny" book, its a tragedy but like all life`s tragedies there is humour in it. You are in for a bumpy right about different approaches to life, suffering, guilt, history, happiness, forgetting and coping. Prof Jove vs Pinkus, Eva vs Sol, Bree vs Mother.
Yet it is light, not gloomy and full of interesting sentences.