Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Hope: A Tragedy

Five words from the blurb: hiding, attic, history, Nazi, family

Hope: A Tragedy begins with Solomon Kugel, a Jewish-American man, discovering Anne Frank in his attic. Kugel’s attempts to inform authorities are met with disbelief so he decides to look after the elderly woman himself. This leads to many entertaining scenes, but the humor is cleverly used to deliver deeper messages about the guilt faced by Holocaust survivors and how society feels it must atone for the suffering of others during WWII.

I loved the sound of this book when I first heard about it a few years ago, but was reluctant to read it as I haven’t had much success with Jewish comedies before. Then I came across a cheap copy in a charity shop and decided to give it a try. I’m so pleased I did because it handles difficult subjects with originality and wit.

We are rational creatures, Professor Jove explained: hope is irrational. We thus set ourselves up for one dispiriting fall after the next. Anger and depression are not diseases or dysfunctions or anomalies; they are perfectly rational responses to the myriad of avoidable disappointments that begin in thoroughly irrational hope.
Kugel wasn’t sure he understood. Professor Jove smiled warmly.
Tell me, he said. Hitler was the last century’s greatest what?
Kugel had shrugged.
Optimist, said Professor Jove. Hitler was the most unabashed doe-eyed optimist of the last hundred years. That’s why he was the biggest monster.

Some of the passages could be considered offensive (especially to those with strong religious beliefs) but I felt the satire was justified as it highlighted many of the problems with today’s society.

There were a few references to the Jewish religion that went over my head, but these didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. It will probably resonate more strongly with those of Jewish descent, but most of the themes are universal and tackled in an original and thought provoking way.

Stay away from Hope: A Tragedy if you find the idea of Holocaust humor abhorrent, but if you have an open mind and are willing to tolerate some outrageous plot developments then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this book.



11 replies on “Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander”

Judith, It is great to hear that you enjoyed it too! Comparing the different international covers for this book is very interesting. The deer on the US version gives a very different feel to the UK and Dutch ones. I think I prefer the UK one, but the Dutch title is better. Not sure why the others are so reluctant to mention Anne Frank by name!

Ha. This is one of those books that I have on my iPad and cannot for the life of me remember why I downloaded it in the first place. I’m so glad you gave it four-stared review. I might actually give it a try now now.

I’ve got no problem at all with Holocaust humour – as long as it’s done well and having worked with Holocaust survivors I can almost guarantee a similar response from a number of them. I think I’d have more of a problem with outrageous plot developments. But may follow your lead and have a look out in the charity shops.

Louise, I’ve never met a Holocaust survivior, but victims of other events seem to appreciate a lighter response to their tragedy – as long as it is done in the right way. Nothing in the book is more outrageous than finding Anne Frank alive. I think you’d enjoy this one.

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