Hope: A Tragedy

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book 2012

The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his wife and young son there.

To begin again. To start anew. But it isn?t quite working out that way for ...

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Hope: A Tragedy

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book 2012

The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his wife and young son there.

To begin again. To start anew. But it isn’t quite working out that way for Kugel…

His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won’t stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one Kugel bought, and when, one night, he discovers history—a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history—hiding upstairs in his attic, bad quickly becomes worse.

Hope: A Tragedy is a hilarious and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, propelled with unstoppable rhythm and filled with existential musings and mordant wit. It is a comic and compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts that haunt our every present.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. The author’s memoir, Foreskin’s Lament, was about growing up in and leaving the Orthodox Jewish community; this novel’s hero, Solomon Kugel, isn’t observant, but he’s still locked into a relationship with a God he “could never believe in... but he could never not believe in, either.” And with a mother who insists she’s a Holocaust survivor, major money problems, a farmhouse that’s not only on the hit list of a local arsonist but also features an unwanted occupant in the attic, he’s fully immersed in what Philip Roth (an obvious influence, down to a shared obsession with Anne Frank) once called “the incredible drama of being a Jew.” Things start out hilarious and if the book wanes a bit as life keeps getting worse for Kugel, God’s plaything, that’s okay. 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.” (Jan.)
Booklist
Given his audaciously funny memoir, Foreskin's Lament (2007), it isn't surprising that Auslander's first novel is defiantly hilarious, but its riotous and downright sacrilegious satire wildly exceeds expectations...Along with its lacerating irreverence and tonic comedy of angst, Auslander's devilishly cunning, sure-to-be controversial novel poses profound questions about meaning, justice, truth, and responsibility.
Library Journal
Solomon Kugel is obsessed with death and what his last words will be. Having moved to the country for some peace and quiet, he discovers that he has a supposedly long-dead Holocaust victim living in his farmhouse attic. What's worse, he won't ask her to leave. He fears that as a Jew he will be ostracized for making a famous concentration camp victim homeless—never mind that he's discovered that the bad smell in the house is from her using the heating vents as her toilet. In this hilarious farce, we inhabit the musings of Kugel as he deals with what initially seems like a minor inconvenience in his home life. Soon, however, events spin out of control as he is injured, loses his job, and alienates his wife. VERDICT With underlying ghoulish humor—it's risky to engage lightheartedly with the Holocaust—Auslander provides a brisk narrative marked by a continuing parade of sharp, ironic asides as Kugel's life falls apart piece by piece. A darkly ambitious undertaking in absurdity that essentially mimics the problems of real life; recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA
Library Journal
Auslander, author of the edgy, well-received memoir Foreskin's Lament, returns with a first novel about a man who's moved his family to uneventful Stockton, NY. But there's an arsonist about, and in the attic he finds an ancient woman, arm tattooed, who claims to be Anne Frank. Acerbically smart and in-your-face daring; some readers will bridle. Ripe for attention.
Kirkus Reviews
A family man suffers from money woes, a judgmental spouse and a hectoring mother. But things don't get really funny until he discovers Anne Frank living in his attic. Auslander's debut novel is a scalding, uproarious satire that rejects the idea that the Holocaust can't be mined for comedy--he just knows that a book has to be very good to pull it off. The story's hero is Solomon Kugel, an eco-friendly–goods salesman who's moved his wife and toddler son to a rural Northeast town for some peace and quiet. No such luck: An arsonist is at large, the tenant they've taken on to help make ends meet won't stop complaining and Kugel's mother, supposedly at death's door with a terminal illness, isn't going anywhere. Indeed, she eagerly pursues her beloved hobby of imagining herself a Holocaust victim, slipping images of the death camps alongside family photos in scrapbooks. Investigating a tapping sound he hears in the ducts, Solomon discovers an elderly, sickly, foul-mouthed Anne Frank living in his attic, working on a sequel to her famous diary. The metaphor is punishingly obvious: The Holocaust is an unshakable, guilt-inducing fixture in the life of any self-aware Jew, and living with its legacy can be a burden. What's remarkable is how far Auslander (Beware of God, 2005, etc.) is willing to push the metaphor, and how much pathos he gets from the comedy. Lampshades, grim historical photographs and Alan Dershowitz are all the stuff of laugh-out-loud lines, and Solomon's therapist delivers statements that turn received wisdom on its head--utopia is dystopia, hope is tragic. Auslander's pithy, fast-moving prose emphasizes the comedy, but no attentive reader will misunderstand that he's respectful of the Holocaust's tragedy, only struggling to figure out how to live in its shadow. Brutal, irreverent and very funny. An honest-to-goodness heir to Portnoy's Complaint.
Steve Stern
A virtuoso humorist, and a brave one: beware Shalom Auslander; he will make you laugh until your heart breaks.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
…staggeringly nervy…Other fiction writers have gotten this fresh with Anne Frank. But they don't get much funnier. Mr. Auslander…is neither a voyeur nor a romantic when it comes to conjuring Anne. He 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.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488382
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/12/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (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 short story collection Beware of God and the memoir Foreskin's Lament. He lives in New York City. To learn more about Shalom Auslander, please visit www.shalomauslander.com.

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Interviews & Essays

Hope: A Tragedy was the first title I suggested to my editor. I really thought it was right.

“No,” he said.

My parents didn’t love me, so I have low self-esteem, and I agreed to keep working. These are some of the alternate titles I presented, and the reasoning for or against them:

  • The Diary of Anne Frankenstein:
    My working title; I never really intended to use it—too Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters—but it had grown on me, and I mentioned it to my editor as I was finishing the manuscript. This caused him to proclaim a couple of “title rules” for this novel:
    1. 1) Nothing funny.
    2. 2) No mentioning Anne Frank.
    3. Apparently, people don’t buy “funny” novels, and they don’t buy books about Anne Frank.
    4. Which is, ironically enough, pretty fucking funny.
  • It’s a Wonderful Ka-Pow:
    Too funny.
  • Did I Ever Tell You How Unlucky You Are?
    Too funny.
  • To Those About to Be Consumed by Flames:
    Too Sedaris.
  • Nowhere Ho:
    I liked this title quite a bit, a play on the old expression “Westward Ho.” Kugel, the main character, wishes for nothing more than to be nowhere—a place with no past, no history, no wars, no genocides. This is his dream, his goal of sorts, for both himself and his family. My editor liked it as well, and began mentioning it to people, testing it out. It turns out young people don’t know that expression anymore. The poor dears were very confused. My editor was disappointed. I wanted to run to Nowhere even more than I had before.

    There was a brief concern that they won’t know who Anne Frank is, either, which, we decided, would be pretty fucking funny.

  • The Sufferers:
    I do my best to stay out of bookstores because they make me want to kill myself, but apparently The X is a bit of a trend now. The Informers, The Intuitionist, The Imperfectionists. Et cetera. There was some concern it would be seen as that. I had a difficult time believing that things had gotten so bad that the word “The” was a trend.

    “Like the Bible?” I asked.

    “Keep working,” I was told.

    The Lacerations and The Crematorians died for the same reason. Probably for the best, those.

  • What Have You Done, Mother, What Have You Done?

    My editor phoned one day, and told me that he liked novel titles that were questions.

    “Questions?” I asked.

    “Questions.”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “I like titles that are questions,” he said.

    “That’s why?”

    “Yes.”

    “Because you just like them?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why do you like titles that are questions?”

    “Hey,” he replied, “what’s with all the goddamned questions?”

    “Sorry,” I said.

    My parents didn’t love me, so I have low self-esteem, and I agreed to keep working.

  • The Sea:

    That’s the title of a John Banville novel. It makes me laugh for some reason, and so I suggest it as a title for every book I write. This was the response:

    ?

  • The Driftwood Remains:

    There’s an old Yiddish expression: The storm passes but the driftwood remains. It seemed appropriate, and it sounded like a “literary novel,” plus Yiddish is a dying language, so I’d get points for that.

    “What’s the title?” people asked.

    “The Driftwood Remains,” I said.

    “Oh,” they replied, nodding their heads as if to say, Yes—yes, that sounds like a book. My editor, showing it to people he knew, was getting the same unenthusiastic reception.

    We kept looking. As the time ticked by, the suggestions received more scrutiny and less consideration. The Attic was my shrink’s recommendation. He pushed it pretty hard, too. “Because the attic is his superego, which he is trying to emerge from beneath.” That’s what’s called knowing too much about your character. Just analyze me, Doc, stay away from my characters. Laceration Nation: Too George Saunders. Life’s a Gas: Too Tadeusz Borowski. Sufferer’s Delight: Too Sugarhill Gang.

    The Excruciating Agony of Joy: Sounded to my wife a bit too much like The Unbearable Lightness of Being. She was pushing for Hope: A Tragedy from the beginning, though, so maybe she was just bullshitting me.

    At last, time ran out and the winter catalog had to ship, which is the way most literary decisions are finally made.

    “How about,” the editor said to me, “Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel? But when the copy editor complains, I’m giving her your landline.”

    There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

— From the author
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

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(6)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(3)

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(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    Waste of Time and Money!

    Save your money!

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted June 16, 2013

    Wouldn't recommend it. I felt annoyed by the main character thro

    Wouldn't recommend it. I felt annoyed by the main character throughout the whole book.  I found myself rooting against him and couldn't wait for the book to be finished so I could start reading something better.

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

    Posted March 27, 2013

    Kate to Quin

    Heyy r book now!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    great read

    Irreverent, piercing, funny, philosophical, searching...a companion even.
    Maybe the best reader gets the love/hate idiom of NY Jewish identity. But I'd like to think that the audience is wide and broad. It's so well crafted and surprising and real. Should be required reading for creative writing courses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Bluemist

    I read it! Great job! Thanks for including me into it!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    To TRAPPED

    I would give it **. It was way too fast paced and you seem to have someting against punctuation. When you write stories you also need more detail. The grammar was bad as well and you kept switching between first and third person. It made it confuaing to read. There just were not enough details to tell me whats going on. The description of bluemist seemed whacky. My summary is luna gets separated from soot who is her best friend, then gets captured by twolegs with a clan cat. Then they escape, and luna becomes a warrior. Idk her clan ame. U didnt put it. Then there are dogs. Id like to have way more details. I wrote a story lik this and i only got to one and a half scenes. Thats because there was lots of detail and it got five stars from everybody. So dont b afraid to add detail. Poorly written but nice try and the storyline was nice.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2012

    A dark, clever satire

    The Kirkus Review review is right on the money. Reminds me of an intelligent Woody Allen movie...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012

    Painfully Neurotic

    Not the type of book I would usually read and now I know why. A long winded book about somebody who suffers from psychosis brought on by an equally neurotic mother, the book had me wanting to take some psychotropic meds myself by the end of it. Not recommended unless you truely enjoy stories about dysfunctional families!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2012

    Loved it

    Couldnt put it down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2012

    Clever, Insightful, but Sometimes Too Cute

    Shalom Auslander proved that he is an accomplished writer in his previous collection of short stories. His imagination is again on full display here but although the book is largely a pleasre to read and filled with humor and persuasive insights, it is a bit of a one-trick pony, and the lack of action or even much of a plot makes it seem longer than it is. That said, fans of Auslander will not want to miss it. And, although it is a flawed work, the flashes of brilliance make it a worthwhile read.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    can I have my money and time back

    I have never read a more stupid book then this one - cannot recommend it to anyone except maybe someone who needs a doorstop = cannot even bring myself to waste any more time on this review = I would write an f*bomb something or other but the author of this book seems to have the corner on that = do not spend one cent or one second on this book

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 21, 2012

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    Posted March 6, 2012

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    Posted July 5, 2014

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    Posted January 12, 2012

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    Posted June 1, 2012

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