Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander

To say that Shalom Auslander is not religious would be a gross misunderstanding of his memoir, Foreskin’s Lament. Despite focusing on his departure—or rather, recovery—from Orthodox Judaism, Auslander acknowledges God’s hand in every minuscule aspect of his life. “It’s been a real problem for me,” he repeats.

Peppered with Hebrew vocabulary and Old Testament stories, Auslander’s narrative pulls readers into an insular—even paranoid—worldview where God is a twisted jokester waiting to rain thunder and brimstone for even the smallest mistakes. In his Rabbi-led classroom, they sang, God is here, God is there, God is everywhere!

“I’m doing my best to lose Him,” writes the adult Auslander. “I’m failing miserably.”

God’s anger is matched only by that of Auslander’s father—surly when sober, abusive when drunk—who threatens to break his sons’ hands on a disturbingly regular basis. The cliché is broken by Auslander’s ability to feel empathy for his father. “I wondered what it would be like if no one in your family wanted to walk home with you from synagogue.” So Auslander walks with him. His father doesn’t say a word.

The most painful part of Auslander’s story is his acute consciousness of his own imperfections. It is this knowledge, as he begins shoplifting, eating non-kosher, and delving into pornography, which leads him to vacillate between hopelessness and rage against God for demanding perfection in the first place. But for every curse Auslander launches at God (and there are lots—just a warning to those averse to the f-word) there is an apology, too.

Thankfully, the book is not all doom and gloom. The story is book-ended by the birth of his first child, and his wife, Orli, is stable and refreshing. Also, Auslander possesses incredible wit. He’s funny enough that furtively reading this book in class is impossible—people keep asking what’s so funny. I imagine Auslander’s response would be a sarcastic, “God.”

Review by Melissa Wells, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN-13: 978-1-594489-55-6
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Pub Date: October 2007
Hardcover: $24.95

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