I was very intrigued by the great reviews accorded to Shalom Auslander's novel, Hope: A Tragedy (Riverhead), and am delighted to have read it. I had not read the author's two other books (a short story collection called Beware of God, and a memoir, Foreskin’s Lament), but as far as I can tell from a bit of research he was brought up in a deeply Orthodox Jewish community in upstate New York, from which he vehemently rebelled when he reached adulthood.
The new book tells the story of Solomon Kugel and his family, who have just moved from the city to a rustic farmhouse in a town called Stockton, New York, where, the author tells us, nothing ever happened and no one famous ever lived.
There is a quite unexpected additional tenant found in the attic: none other than Anne Frank, who somehow survived the death camps, got to America and has been living in this attic for decades, while working on another book. This Anne is not at all the angelic child we remember from her diary but a feisty and foul-mouthed character. Just imagine the interaction between her and Kugel's mother! The former owners of the house hadn't thrown her out because they were a family of German extraction and were afraid of the terrible publicity; unfortunately for Kugel, it is no easier for a Jewish family.
Auslander wields a wicked pen, and there are passages where one laughs aloud. Of course there can be comparisons to Joseph Heller and to Philip Roth, but Auslander has his own voice. His hero, Kugel, although not at all religious, has been unable to free himself from his neuroses and Jewish "guilt", and his foray into country living hasn't helped at all (one of his pastimes is to collect "last words" and to try to plan his own). The fact that there is an arsonist in the area burning down houses much like his does not of course help his peace of mind,
Eventually his job and his marriage suffer and there is a surprisingly intense ending. Auslander's comic gifts are joined by a strong moral sense, and he is clearly a writer to watch. Give this one a try — you won't be disappointed.
— Jeremy Nussbaum