12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Funny and profound,
This review is from: Hope: A Tragedy (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)I thought this was a fantastic book. Irreverent doesn't come close to describing it and as a result I often found it very funny indeed and regularly laughed out loud while reading it. However, it is also very touching and insightful, and uses its outrageous premise and its humour to say some very important things about how our lives are affected by our approach to our histories and to hope, grief and fear.
My grandparents and others of my family perished in the Holocaust, so I am well aware that it is a serious, dreadful and deeply tragic event which still exerts a powerful influence and inflicts awful grief and suffering on many people. There is plenty of great literature about all of this by people like Primo Levi, André Schwarz-Bart, Tadeusz Borowski (to whom Auslander makes a sly, witty reference a one point) and many others. There is also plenty of other stuff like Sophie's Choice which I have found obnoxiously exploitative. This book is neither. It is shrewd and funny and in my view a profound book which never mocks the tragedy of the Holocaust itself, but dares to treat attitudes to the Holocaust with something other than awe-struck reverence and uncritical acceptance, summed up in the brilliant observation, "Never forgetting the Holocaust is not the same as never shutting up about it."
The book satirises the embracing of despair and using historic grief as an excuse to evade real, present-day challenges and responsibilities. Auslander paints a merciless and brilliantly funny satirical portrait of a Holocaust-obsessed mother who will not accept the "unhorrible truth that life, tragically, hadn't been so bad," and who pretends have been intimately involved in the Holocaust, indulging in a permanent "Misery Olympics" in which her pain must be greater than anyone else's. There is a brief but telling competitive conversation between two people about who has lost more relatives in the Holocaust and whose opinion should therefore carry more authority, a wonderful satire of a personal counsellor who maintains that hope and aspiration are responsible for the world's problems: if we all effectively hid in an attic expecting and doing nothing then we would never be disappointed and would cause nothing bad to happen, and so on. The book is full of these gems.
Beneath the wit and satire is genuine erudition, often used to terrific comic effect - Spinoza and his mother's deathbed keep popping up, for example, and regularly had me doubled over with laughter. There is real content here, too. Auslander explicitly speaks of the damage which may be done if anyone, not just Jews, defines themselves strongly - as individuals, as an ethnic or religious group or as a nation - by past injustice or injury. It seems to me that Auslander is saying to all of us that our histories are important but that life is here and now and needs to be lived.
There is much more that I would like to say, but this review is probably too long already. I loved this book and if, like me, you share its sense of humour you will find it profound, touching, wise and often very, very funny. I recommend it very warmly.