Foreskin's Lament

( 11 )

Overview

A New York Times Notable Book, and a “chaotic, laugh riot” (San Francisco Chronicle) of a memoir.

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 the path to a life where he didn’t struggle daily with the fear of God’s formidable wrath. Foreskin’s Lament reveals Auslander’s “painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious” youth in a strict, socially ...

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book, and a “chaotic, laugh riot” (San Francisco Chronicle) of a memoir.

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 the path to a life where he didn’t struggle daily with the fear of God’s formidable wrath. Foreskin’s Lament reveals Auslander’s “painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious” youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox Jewish community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. His combination of unrelenting humor and anger renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith and family.

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Editorial Reviews

Benjamin Anastas
Auslander, a contributor to "This American Life" and the author of a book of stories called Beware of God (2005), grew up in a strict Orthodox community about 30 miles north of Manhattan…and his funny, fierce and subversively heartfelt book is a record of his coming-of-age in captivity and an ode to "the evil inclination" that would set him free from bondage, but not entirely…Writing with humor and bitter irony about the most personal subjects, with deep, real-world consequences, is no task for an acolyte, although many have tried. With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart, Auslander gives us Foreskin's Lament. Mazel tov to him. And God? Well, he'll survive.
—The New York Times
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 2007 Reed Business Information
New York Times Book Review
Fierce, funny, and subversively heartfelt...With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart, Auslander gives us Foreskin's Lament. Mazel tov to him. And God? Well, he'll survive.
Newsweek
Blasphemous and funny.
San Francisco Chronicle
A terrific book I was sad I read in so few sittings, because I wanted more.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.
The Houston Chronicle
A fretful, self-effacing, bitter...hilarious story.
Boston Globe
A surprise and delight.
New York Magazine
Wryly comic.
GQ
A very funny memoir.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Lyrical, hysterical... funny and angry.
Miami Herald
An audacious, poke-God-in-theeye memoir.
Library Journal

Generation Xer Auslander (Beware of God: Stories), raised an Orthodox Jew but trying to extricate himself from his dysfunctional web of family and religion, has a self-described problem: he believes in God, but it's not working for him. Auslander traces his adversarial relationship with the Almighty through a series of hilarious but gut-wrenching episodes from his childhood and adolescence: the "blessing at meals" competitions at yeshiva, Orthodox dating woes, and his painful relationship with his rage-filled father. Readers will alternately laugh and cringe at his scathing portrayals of family life and his angry, almost biblical attempts to bargain with God in order to achieve happiness and security. Though this is not at all a theological treatise, those unfamiliar with the Orthodox Jewish tradition will learn much through Auslander's attempts to accommodate the larger American culture while adhering to religious law. Anyone raised in a strict religious environment and/or by a strict religious family will identify with his experiences. Suitable for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/07.]
—Nancy E. Adams

Kirkus Reviews
What was it that Tolstoy said about unhappy families?While each may in fact be unique in its discontent, surely the one recalled here by Auslander (Beware of God: Stories, 2005) stands out from the rest for sheer outlandish, operatic misery. Haunted by the ghost of a first son who died in toddlerhood, the author's Orthodox Jewish father became a broken, brutish alcoholic. His mother, an embittered woman convinced she married beneath her, lusted vocally after the achievements and wealth of her two brothers, both rabbis. This childhood tale of woe could be merely maudlin, but Auslander brings a mordant sense of humor to his portraits of encounters with the non-Orthodox and their Trans Ams, and of jockeying for position in his isolated upstate New York community. The book begins with the author, who fled this insular world to work in New York City, discovering that wife Orli, a fellow religious refugee, was pregnant-an occasion to celebrate for many, but Auslander, who grew up terrified of a vengeful God, saw it more like the setup to a cosmic joke. "I know this God, I know how he works," he writes. "On the drive home from the hospital, we'll collide head-on with a drunk driver and [my wife and son will] both die later . . . That would be so God." The author's attempts to rid himself of the scheming deity under whose thumb he came of age became tangled up in his strained relationship with his family, but he tells this sad story with a crucial touch of satire. In the midst of a description of his waking nightmares of theistic vengeance, a friend interrupted to point out that Auslander's conviction that God might have a personal vendetta against him was slightly solipsistic. He's schemingagainst you, too, Auslander responded: "You just don't notice it."An often breathtakingly irreverent look at religion and the humorous side of exorcising the past.
The Barnes & Noble Review
I told Dr. Hirsch that I had been thinking about suicide. -- Not about committing it, I said. -- Just about its theological implications. This passage from near the close of Shalom Auslander's grimly funny Foreskin's Lament captures the attitude and obsession that define this unusual memoir. It's less a coming-of-age story than the account of one man's struggle with an elusive, powerful adversary -- who just happens to be the One True God. The product of a strictly observant Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Auslander chronicles a childhood marked by the dread of a deity straight out of Thomas Hardy -- capricious, enigmatic, and amused by the human struggle to make sense of Him. As a boy the author discovers that his best defense against this adversary is to mine a layer of black humor deep enough to hide from even an all-seeing presence. ("Good one, God," is a refrain.)

But it's not Auslander's strategy to hide; rather, this often self-lacerating book holds nearly nothing back. The unvarnished mess of the author's family life -- from his mother's commitment to local respectability, to his rebellious brother's archetypal battle with a drink-tormented father, to his own growing obsessions with shoplifting and transgressive sex -- is brought forward in mesmerizing focus. Even more vivid are the scenes with the irascible characters responsible for the author's religious education -- which he unforgettably characterizes as "theological abuse." Infused with a unyielding rage (and sometimes nearly capsized by it) the story of how Auslander abandons their world for a loving one of his own choosing is also the tale of how he's never quite left it behind.
--Bill Tipper

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594483332
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/7/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 366,527
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Shalom Auslander

Shalom Auslander has written for The New Yorker, Esquire, and The New York Times Magazine, and is a regular contributor to NPR's This American Life. His short story collection Beware of God was published in 2005.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2009

    inside view of child's orthodox upbringing

    funny, sad, bewildering view of life growing up in an orthodox Jewish community and his struggle in leaving it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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