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Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir

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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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Foreskin's Lament

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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
Miami Herald
An audacious, poke-God-in-theeye memoir.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.
Newsweek
Blasphemous and funny.
The Houston Chronicle
A fretful, self-effacing, bitter...hilarious story.
San Francisco Chronicle
A terrific book I was sad I read in so few sittings, because I wanted more.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Lyrical, hysterical... funny and angry.
Boston Globe
A surprise and delight.
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.
New York Magazine
Wryly comic.
GQ
A very funny 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: 9781594489556
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/4/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Shalom Auslander

Shalom Auslander was raised in Monsey, New York. Nominated for the Koret Award for writers under thirty-five, he has published articles in Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Tablet, The New Yorker, and has had stories aired on NPR's This American Life. Auslander is the author of the novel Hope: A Tragedy, the short story collection Beware of God, and the memoir Foreskin's Lament. He lives in New York. To learn more about Shalom Auslander, please visit www.shalomauslander.com.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(1)

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(2)

1 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2008

    A reviewer

    They are obviously going to disagree with Auslander, who has created a stunning and, at times, hilarious memoir. Everything he writes about, and I say this coming from a similar background and having gone to the same yeshiva high school he went to for a year, rings true. And his use of biblical characters to illustrate parallels to his own experience is masterful. I studied Talmud and all that for a long period of time as well, but I checked on a few things after reading this book and saw that this guy knows his stuff. No one should skip this one, as it is an important depiction of the scars a forced religious education can leave for life. If religion floats your boat, fine. What Auslander seems to suggest, and what I wholeheartedly agree with, is just don't impress it on those who don't ask for it and certainly don't scare them into it. Oh, one final note to the reviewer before me with the one-star rating. If one has strong feelings against Judaism, as I do, it does not mean he/she is a self-hating Jew and hates all Jews. I still get along with many Jewish friends. Shocking, I know. In 2008.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2007

    Interesting But Painful

    Austlander's story is painful. It reminded me of the story of the Biblical prophet Jonah who tried tp flee from God, but could not. Jonah was cought in the sea by a fish. Austlander is cought between the void and thoughts of emptiness, which dwells in an atheistic universe and permissive society and the horror of the existence of an angry God who controls the world absolutly and is angry at him. Unfurtunatly, situations like these are created by a lack of transmittal of authentic religion, distortion of the concept of God, divinity, and judaism by parents, teachers and the society at large. Perhaps, one day, like Jonah, Mr. Auslander will rediscover what God's intentions really are, and undo his feelings toward religion.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2007

    UGH!!!!

    If you like self-hating Jews, you will love this book, from its cheap-shock title on. Those who compare Auslander to a Sedaris or other great memoirists are off the mark. Sedaris has some love and respect for his subject matter. While Auslander is occasionally funny, his bitterness casts a shadow over his work.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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