28 April 2013

Books: Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (2012)

Solomon Kugel and his wife, Bree and their son have moved from Brooklyn in an old farmhouse in Stockton, New York. Nervous, fearful and bit odd, Kugel is disturbed by the tapping noises coming from the attic. He has hope that it’s nothing but mice, and not the arsonist who is attacking various farmhouses around Stockton. But he is surprised to find that it’s neither mice nor an arsonist, but an old woman typing on a laptop; an old woman that just happens to be Anne Frank.

Kugel is, of course, surprised, and author Aslander laments “while there’s never a good time to find Anne Frank in your attic, this was a particularly bad time” for our protagonist. As mentioned, the Kugels are recent transplants from New York City to the countryside. To help pay for the farmhouse, they take on a tenant, who becomes nosy when he reminds Kugel that he’s paying for the attic space, but is living in another room, next to Kugel’s own mother, who is pretending to die and who believes, as a Jew, she must suffer for all the millions who died in the Holocaust because she lived a very good life. When Kugel considers calling the cops about his unwanted Holocaust survivor who everyone thought was dead, he can hear his mother voice asking him “What’s the matter, you didn’t have Dr. Mengele’s number?”

The gist of the tale is, as Anne Frank has spent decades writing a novel, would her “fans,” both Jewish and those who are not, see her differently had she really survived the Holocaust. Is she only famous, in the end, because she died there? Would anyone care about her diaries had she lived to see them published? 

This is, in the end, an absurdist tale, written with some hilarious and biting satire. It is filled with guilt and pessimism, yet it never wallows too much in either of them, with Auslander handling the tale with aplomb. It’s a great humorous read, and kind of reminded me of what Mel Brooks might have done after History of the World, Part One.

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