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Hope: A Tragedy

Hope: A Tragedy

by Shalom Auslander


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The bestselling debut novel from Shalom Auslander, the darkly comic author of Foreskin’s Lament and Beware of God.
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.
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594486463
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/31/2012
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 593,591
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(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 memoir Foreskin's Lament. He is the creator of Showtime's "Happyish." He lives in New York City. To learn more about Shalom Auslander, please visit

What People are Saying About This

John Gray

Can the darkest events of the twentieth century and of all human history be used to show the folly of hope? And can the result be so funny that you burst out laughing again and again? If you doubt this is possible, read Hope: A Tragedy. You won't regret it. (John Gray, author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals)

A. L. Kennedy

A wonderful, twisted, transgressive, heart-breaking, true and hugely funny book. It will make very many people very angry. It will also make very many people very happy (A.L. Kennedy, author of Day)

Howard Jacobson

Shalom Auslander writes like some contemporary comedic Jeremiah, thundering warnings of disaster and retribution. What makes him so terrifyingly funny is that he isn't joking. (Howard Jacobson, author of The Finkler Question and winner of the Man Booker Prize)

From the Publisher

Praise for Hope: A Tragedy

“Staggeringly nervy… Other fiction writers have gotten this fresh with Anne Frank. But they don’t get much funnier… [Auslander] 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… It’s a tall order for Mr. Auslander to raise an essentially comic novel to this level of moral contemplation. Yet Hope: A Tragedy succeeds shockingly well.”  – New York Times

“Shalom Auslander is my kind of Jew — an unapologetically paranoid, guilt-ridden, self-loathing Diaspora kvetch, enraged by a God he can’t live with or without. While others of his generation may mine the tradition for a fond retrieval of forgotten lore, Auslander throws stones at the fiddler on the roof. He’s a black comic who’s alloyed the manic existential shtick of Lenny Bruce with the gallows humor that’s been a staple of the repertoire since the Babylonian Exile…. He is patently not good for the Jews…. A virtuoso humorist, and a brave one: beware Shalom Auslander; he will make you laugh until your heart breaks.” – New York Times Book Review

“Absurdist, hilarious … Part Sholom Aleichem, part Woody Allen, part homage to Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, it is a story of neurotic Jews, the problem of memory and the solace of suffering. "It's funny," begins the novel, and it is…. To hope, we must misremember. So we build structures of misremembering: We build fictions. Auslander's first novel, Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel is a beautiful one.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An irreverent (and how!), dark (to say the least), hilarious novel about a man who finds a beloved historical figure hiding in his attic.” — O, the Oprah Magazine

“A caustic comic tour de force.” — NPR

“There is an admirable fearlessness to Shalom Auslander’s writing . . . [His] ruminations and his clever inversions of conventional wisdom can challenge readers to re-examine opinions they probably take for granted, particularly regarding how the history of the Holocaust is remembered and taught.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Scabrously funny…. Willfully outrageous, a black humorist with an Old Testament moralist’s heart… Angry, funny, shocking even, writing that strips away the niceties” – Los Angeles Times

“Poisonously funny…. Like an unintentional bark of laughter at a funeral.” – Entertainment Weekly

“The real tragedy would be to miss out on [this] debut novel, brimming with dark humor.” Entertainment Weekly’s Must List

“Blends tragedy, comedy and satire in the mold of Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka.” – Wall Street Journal

“Grimly comic… relentlessly entertaining.” – Boston Globe

“Very funny; there is something very Wile E. Coyote about the ridiculous oppression that pursues Kugel… Vivid and very hard to stop thinking about.” – Forward

“The darkest of dark comedies. It’s as uncomfortably hilarious as it is shockingly offensive… Equal parts Philip Roth and Franz Kafka.” – Columbus Dispatch

“Brilliant… [An] open space for Auslander’s wild talent for gorgeously timed staccato rhythms.” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Hilariously bitter and gloriously insensitive.” –

“There are echoes of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and even Franz Kafka in this wildly original novel. And yet with Hope: A Tragedy, Auslander has created a story that’s uniquely his, with something in it to offend, enlighten and ultimately touch just about anyone.” — BookPage

“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….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.’” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reading Group Guide


Solomon Kugel left New York City to raise his family in a safer environment. Unfortunately, the rural enclave of Stockton, New York, is not the peaceful haven that he anticipated. An arsonist is running amok, Kugel can’t cover the mortgage—and a putrid smell is emanating from the farmhouse’s attic.

Instead of finding mouse droppings or a hibernating raccoon, Kugel discovers a withered woman who claims to be Anne Frank.

Kugel is not a practicing Jew. He doesn’t know where to buy matzoh. He’s never even read The Diary of Anne Frank. Yet, Kugel hews to his cultural stereotype in one crucial sense: he is crippled by guilt. Already torn between the needs of his wife, child, and aged mother, Kugel begins catering to his demanding attic dweller as well. Anne Frank adheres to the schedule she learned as a girl—sleeping through the day while writing the follow–up to her thirty–two–million–copy bestselling memoir at night. Downstairs, Kugel lies sleepless, listening to the steady “tap, tap, tap“ of Anne’s fingers on the keys and wondering if this is the night his house will be torched.

Filled with gut–wrenching pathos and brazenly irreverent hilarity, Hope: A Tragedy is wholly un–Kosher as it definitively confirms Shalom Auslander’s arrival as a major literary force.



Shalom Auslander was “raised like veal“ in Monsey, New York. Nominated for the Koret Jewish Book Award for writers under thirty–five, he has published articles in GQ, Tablet, The New York Times Magazine, andThe New Yorker, and has had stories aired on NPR’s This American Life. The author of the short story collection Beware of God and the memoir Foreskin’s Lament, he lives in New York.


  • In the event of another Holocaust, would you hide Kugel in your attic? In what ways is he already living in an attic?
  • Do you think Anne Frank is really living in Kugel’s attic? If not, what does her presence symbolize?
  • Kugel’s mother thinks that Jonah—at three years old—should know about the Holocaust. Kugel, however, wants to raise his son in ignorance. At what age—if at all—should children be educated about difficult historical events? Is our devotion to “remembering“ atrocities like the Holocaust ultimately harmful or necessary?
  • Kugel’s therapist, Professor Jove, is his “trusted guide and adviser“ (p. 3). Yet, he is unavailable whenever Kugel tries to reach him. What is his role in the novel?
  • Is hope as noxious a force as Professor Jove believes it to be?
  • The proliferation of food allergies and gluten intolerance is one darkly hilarious instance of irony in the novel. What are some others?
  • Are the barn burnings a red herring, or is Will Messerschmidt’s story an important part of Kugel’s story? Do you agree with Anne Frank when she says that “we’d have had fewer problems in this world if more people had the courage to be self–hating“?
  • Are you offended by Auslander’s dark humor? Would the novel have been more or less potent without it?
  • Interviews

    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.


      “Why?” I asked.

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

      “That’s why?”


      “Because you just like them?”


      “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

    Customer Reviews