Shalom Auslander's Novel, Hope: A Tragedy

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shalom Auslander talks about his novel Hope: A Tragedy, a humorous and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, and a compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts which haunt our present lives.


Shalom Auslander

Comments [13]


I downloaded and listened to the Moth's podcast pointed out by DanielGr. The only embarrassing part was the non-stop laughter from a few women in the audience. Otherwise, it compliments this discussion rather well...

Jan. 18 2012 07:04 PM

Tom. I can't deny that mass murder will occur in the future. That doesn't mean efforts to honor victims are without purpose or are warped. It's a basic part of the human heart to need to mourn and it's a basic part of almost all of us not to commit atrocious acts. I would argue that through remembrance we don't eliminate the possibility of mass murder, but we do actually reduce its odds of recurring.

Remembrance and piety toward our dead have value. Auslander finds our piety to be excessive. We should stop "f-ing" talking about it. He makes comments that our piety leads to anti-Semitism in Germany. There's no logic or thoughtfulness to that kind of comment. It's just the teenage bad boy in Auslander coming out, something he just doesn't have the maturity to repress. Here's a contemporary "joke" that I heard last time I was in Germany. "What's the difference between the Jews and the Turks? We haven't killed the Turks yet." Rational, mature people in Germany understand the importance of remembrance in retarding the potential - however remote - of mass murder returning.

I can tell you something far worse than "excessive" remembrance. In my father's hometown in Ukraine, they paved the streets with Jewish tombstones after WWII. There are scores of unmarked mass graves. That country refuses to admit complicity in mass murder not only of Jews, but of Poles that vigilantes murdered on the Ukraine western border during WWII. Now tell me which country, Germany with its remembrance or Ukraine, which pretends nothing happened, is more likely to commit acts of mass murder again?

These are important issues that require mature, careful, thoughtful, respectful discussion. None of that is present in Hope: A Tragedy. It's broad. It's crude. It's hateful, hurtful, and contemptible.

Jan. 18 2012 06:07 PM

To Stuart - what piety do you offer to victims...? Honoring the dead of tragedy is too often a panacea...a means to escape the reality that history WILL repeat itself and shows how little reverence and piety serve anyone in any real means.

We're surrounded by and in a way bombarded with these Monuments to Tragedy, and yet they keep on coming generation after generation...

And when great-great grand children are still carrying the torch, its way too often a self-serving means to make themselves Bigger than they are.

Jan. 18 2012 05:15 PM


If you feel that the Holocaust is sacred, then you should complain when it is mentioned on the daily basis and the whole industry is developed around it with people profiting from its memory.

Potentially Auslander stepped over the boundaries when he used Anne Frank character in his novel. Don't know, have not read the book. However, the character of the mother who claim to be a survivor is reflective of the fact that there are too many who wrongfully claim to be the Holocaust survivors - I have seen my share.

Jan. 18 2012 05:14 PM

Lopate denies that this book - which forcibly and crudely demeans honoring the victims of mass murder with reverence - is of "unspeakably bad taste". But that's exactly what it is. Auslander understands that mass murder is awful. What he doesn't yet have the heart to understand is that piety and reverence for the dead is an important part of how we live with grace and humanity. Whether it be the Shoah or Rwanda or Cambodia we honor the memory of those that have been murdered. It may not give Auslander solace to do so, but most humans, including me, find emotional strength in treating victims of mass murder with honor and piety.

Auslander seems to be so filled with hate and anger for his past that he is unable to understand the need for dignity in response to loss. It's a very human, real need for most. I read this book. I was appalled. I felt like I was reading the writings of an emotionally ugly teenager, not something written by a thoughtful adult. This isn't "black humor". It's tastelessness elevated to a level of an ugly vendetta against grief and mourning.

In a field in Ukraine there is a mass grave where my grandparents, uncles, and aunts lie buried. I never knew them. But I certainly knew my parents well. Despite what they lived through in Europe they were remarkably optimistic, hopeful people, as were their friends. They were amazingly resilient and worked toward a better future. That is a part of the human spirit that Auslander simply does not have the emotional range to understand. Had Anne Frank lived, the odds of her being an angry, foul mouthed writer who hates her mother, desperate to write her next bestseller are zero. This book is not only hurtful and in bad taste. Artistically it is one long false note.

Jan. 18 2012 03:09 PM

Well, jgarbuz, in this case it is you who is preachy and pedagogical.

Auslander's book is about "burdens and abuse of history". Abuse! He is on our side.

Got it?

Got it?

Got it?

Jan. 18 2012 02:08 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

to sanych

It was LIBERAL Jews, most of whom had no immediate relatives in the Holocaust,who "oversold" the Holocaust by trying to shove "education" and guilt down every throat, and opening up all these Holocaust theme parks! I was always against this idea that you can "educate" racism and antisemitism out of people. It works just the opposite. My mother used to say, "Times may change, but people never do." YOu can be as preachy and as pedagogical as you want, but you can't change the hearts of people by shoving guilt down their throat. Nor by poking fun or making light of any of it. It was what it was: PURE HORROR. Millions of children dead. Anyone who sees any humor in any of it has to see what his dead kid looks like.

Jan. 18 2012 01:12 PM

A quick disclosure - my mother is a Holocaust survivor (the real one).

There is nothing wrong with the author poking fun at the fact that the Holocaust is "way oversold" in this country. Especially to Jews...

Jan. 18 2012 01:00 PM
lin from NYC

I really do not find anything funny about the Holocaust not even as black comedy.

Jan. 18 2012 12:58 PM
Afra1 from nyc

I just this past week got hooked on Maus by Speigleman (read book 1 in 2 days) - love it. So disappointing to read some of these comments here.

Jan. 18 2012 12:58 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Yes, another show and yet another liberal Jew poking fun, or acting out his neuroses, or otherwise trying to make a living by selling out his people. This has become a way for some writers to make a living, scribbling books for our enemies to enjoy. If your guest had actually his grandparents, or his family in the Holocaust, he would probably be more contrite. But he's just another Jewish renegade ragging on his own to scrape up a buck. The antsemite and Arab literary market is very big now.

My own mother just barely survived hidden by TRUE Christians after her first son, my grandmother, and others from the family were exterminated fleeing from the ghetto. But that's all water under the bridge. Now is the time to belittle it, poke fun at it, and otherwise make a buck scribbling any garbage that comes to mind.

Jan. 18 2012 12:53 PM
Lara from UWS

Once again another show and book about Jews and the Holocaust.

Jan. 18 2012 12:47 PM

Your story recently broadcast on the Moth's podcast was embarrassing. It was full of cliched stereotypes of neurotic jews. If you're going to make jokes about the holocaust, they should at least be funny. Mr Auslander, Woody Allen called, he wants his schtick back.

Jan. 18 2012 12:08 PM

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