Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament

by Shalom Auslander


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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594483332
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/07/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 495,143
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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 acclaimed novel Hope: A Tragedy. He lives in New York City. To learn more about Shalom Auslander, please visit

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“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 Times Book Review

“Auslander writes like Philip Roth’s angry nephew... a scathing theological rant, a funny, oddly moving coming-of-age memoir, and an irreverent meditation on family, marriage, and cultural identity. God may be a bit irritated by this book, but I loved it.”—Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher

“A laugh-out-loud quarrel with God.”—Newsweek

“A terrific book I was sad I read in so few sittings, because I wanted more.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Blasphemous and funny.”—Newsweek

“A surprise and delight.”—Boston Globe

“A fretful, self-effacing, bitter…hilarious story.”—The Houston Chronicle

“Wryly comic.”—New York Magazine

“Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

“A very funny memoir.”—GQ

“Lyrical, hysterical… funny and angry.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An audacious, poke-God-in-the eye memoir.”—Miami Herald

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Foreskin's Lament 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
funny, sad, bewildering view of life growing up in an orthodox Jewish community and his struggle in leaving it.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like the author's wife says, "They really did a number on you." Auslander is an angry man, who cannot stop himself from trying to make deals with God, with sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious results. Even though at its core lies a very sad childhood and a very sad child, Auslander has a fantastic sense of humor coupled with impeccable timing and I actually laughed out loud quite a few times (sometimes while reading in public, which caused some raised eyebrows, especially when I flipped the cover over and revealed its title). It's juvenile and insightful and heartbreaking and very, very, very funny, all in one package. I feel really bad for Auslander himself, but I can't help but be grateful that he managed to live through it and become a writer so he could share the insanity with the rest of us.
iamtelling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some things I've learned about Shalom Auslander:- He believes in God. This is a problem.- He thinks God has a mean sense of humor and that he is often the punchline.- He fears that God will smite him, his wife, his child, his parents, and his siblings.- He had a very messed up family, but no more messed up than most religiously, fundamentalist families.- He paid $350/hour for a psychiatrist.- He needed it.Auslander's memoir is often funny, but incredibly painful to read.
kishields on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable for the most part, but Auslander's neuroses are more serious than I knew from listening to him on This American Life. I loved the local color in the childhood sections, set in New York City, but at times his rants against God's apparent cruelty become tedious. This book may actually improve in the audio format, since his deadpan delivery a la Ben Stein helps bring out the humor and sarcasm.
baachan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Older teens, with complicated issues, are likely to reject "teen fiction" as written for a younger audience. And sometimes real life can say it so much better. I chose this book for my media log because I think that it has a lot to say about establishing one's own relationship with God, about navigating complex family dynamics, and the issue of anger. This is a very angry memoir; Auslander's carried a lot of his resentment about being brought up in the Orthodox Jewish tradition with him since he was a kid. But he's trying to deal with his anger and resolve his relationship with God, to navigate new ground in his spiritual life. I think that questioning God's existence is something that teens do, especially if they've been brought up in conventional families. And the entire memoir depicts how Auslander's upbringing has informed the way he lives his entire life--he's no long observing Orthodox Jewish religious practice, but God and thinking about God pervades his life. Auslander has cut off ties with his family, and while I wouldn't want to encourage teens to do the same, I think if a teen's family situation is dire enough, it may be worth pointing them toward this memoir as a beacon of hope, to say, 'hey, you don't always have to deal with them, once you're and adult and you can make a rational, well-reasoned decision.' I don't necessarily agree with the decision to cut off family, but I can see that in some situations, it may be appropriate. For older teens, recommended for high school library collections--there's a lot to discuss in here. It would make a great book report title for a senior English class, give students the chance to explore memoir as a genre, as well as to explore the events of the book; if students were given a choice of titles, this could be included on the list.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Auslander writes with all the wit and sardonic irony of Philip Roth but without the misogyny and, in spite of a lot of R-rated dialogue, without the scatological aftertaste of Roth¿s work. Plus, he¿ll have you laughing out loud. And unlike Roth, who claimed "Portnoy's Complaint" was "a novel in the guise of a confession," Auslander's interviews indicate this book is a confession in the guise of a novel. (On Roth, see "The New York Review of Books," October 3, 1974; on Auslander, see "The Portland Mercury," October 17, 2008.)In one sense it is a book about searching for one¿s identity, about wandering in the desert to reach the Promised Land. So many are searching for their roles in life, Auslander observes: straight men pretending to be gay (and thus more valued for their taste in wine and home furnishings), white kids pretending to be black, and black kids pretending to be West Coast gangsters. And he refers throughout the story to his own search for a Promised Land ¿with no God, at least not with the God I knew¿.¿ But more specifically, he seems to be seeking what Ruth Wisse, Harvard Professor of Literature, described as the goal of the contemporary Jewish reader of secular books, i.e., "a synthesis between a culture he is supposed to have inherited and the one of which he forms a part" ("Commentary," March 1980).He also wants control over his life. Both in the here, and the hereafter. Although this book is a memoir about growing up as an orthodox Jew, it is for anyone who survived a childhood worrying that an all-powerful God would discover his or her personal departures from faith and virtue, and what the potential repercussions would be, both earthly and eternal. Auslander wonders if he suffers from a metaphysical form of Stockholm syndrome. ¿Held captive by this man for thousands of years, we now praise Him, defend Him, excuse Him, sometimes kill for Him¿.¿ Auslander maintains that while he may not be observant, he is ¿painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious.¿ In fact, he says, he is like a foreskin, the part of the male member that is removed during circumcision. What is it to be a foreskin? It is to be ¿brutalized, cast off, and cut repeatedly.¿ It is to have been ¿theologically abused.¿He constantly questions God, taunts God, bargains with God, and excoriates God. Some people are offended, he notes, if you refer to God as a ¿prick¿ but he says he is surprised at this. ¿Because they¿re the ones who told me He was. They told me all about Him ¿ about the floods, the pillars of salt, the killing, the slaughtering, that He was quick to anger yet full of mercy, that He was stiff-necked but forgiving, that he flew off the eternal handle with frightening regularity ¿ that He was, basically, a prick.¿ There is both "pain and poignancy" in Auslander's jeremiad, to paraphrase Michael Chabon's imagining of the Golem, the Jewish mythical man of clay invoked by Jews in time of need. The Golem was a creature, said Chabon, "who never asked to be made, whose fate is ... thoroughly shaped by his parents' [and God's] intentions, might and desire, whose relationship to life is ... tenuous and easily erased" (Chabon in "Pakn Trager," Winter 2002). And like the Golem, Auslander is asked to be a magical figure for his parents, to be someone who can forestall death and misery (for them) by living an orthodox life.All of this sounds rather dire, but a very funny black humor lightens the pathos. Or, as the Yiddish expression would have it, you will "lachen mit yashcherkes" (laugh with lizards). This colorful characterization of gallows humor means: I'm laughing but it is not funny; it is actually very sad.Auslander relives for us not only his flirtations with faith, but his flirtations with apostasy, from stuffing his mouth with Slim Jims (spitting them out, buying more, punching his stomach, buying more) to acquiring pornography (burning it out in the yard, buying more), to shoplifting (it works better
GamecockGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have heard Shalom Auslander on Public Radio International's "This American Life" several times in the past, and I always told myself that I would read this book when I "had time." When I got ready to purchase it, I was a little scared of the numerous "bad" reviews on Amazon, but decided to go ahead and give it a try, since he is always funny on TAL. I am very happy I decided to read it, because there were many parts that were laugh out loud funny. Yes, there were some parts that (as a Christian) I found off-putting, but I knew that those things would be in the book when I started reading it. Personally, the stories I liked more were the ones about his childhood, (but not the parental abuse ones) and experiences in Hebrew school, but the stories of his adulthood were also enjoyable, but many of those were just sad, as opposed to humorous. All in all, I enjoyed the book, and I will probably re-read parts of it again.
jorgearanda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Auslander can be an entertaining writer, but this account of deliverance from religious orthodoxy is excessively egocentric and paranoid.
bohemima on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anger begets anger. This is a very bitter, angry, skewed look at a religious upbringing. Auslander depicts his father as a mean and unpredictable drunk, and apparently has conflated his ideas about God with his ideas about his father. The book, which I had hoped would be humorous, turned out to be a decidedly unfunny, repetitious, boring rant. The author comes across as being stuck in adolescent rebellion and still engaging in magical thinking, trying to bargain with a God he doesn't really believe in. In the end the reader is left feeling sad and very sorry for the author, who has a pretty good life now, but can't seem to enjoy any of it.
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