Hope: A Tragedy is a hilarious and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, propelled with unstoppable rhythm and filled with existential musings and mordant wit. It is a comic and compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts that haunt our every present. The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his wife and young son there. To begin again.

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It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when Shalom Auslander pitched the idea for his latest book to his agent. One imagines the conversation would have gone something like this: "I want to write about the Holocaust. That sells. The brilliance of Hope: A Tragedy is that it pulls off this potentially offensive conceptual feat with devastating aplomb.

More than that, Auslander has written one of the funniest books of the last decade: a raging, hilarious polemic on the inescapability of history and the ambiguous nature of hope.

The protagonist is Solomon Kugel, a young Jewish professional who yearns for nothing more than to protect his only child, three-year-old Jonah, from all the awful things that could happen to him. To this end, Kugel moves his family — including his wife Bree and his ageing mother — out of New York to a picturesque farmhouse in the rural town of Stockton.

There is a local arsonist on the loose but otherwise Stockton is "famous for nothing". The nothingness appeals because Kugel is a man suffocated by history. His childhood was overshadowed by the constant threat of tragedy, encouraged by his mother who, despite being born in Brooklyn in , imagines she is a survivor of the concentration camps. In the farmhouse, she wakes up screaming every morning: "She had done so ever since reading that this was common behaviour among survivors of the Holocaust.

The target of his satire is not the Holocaust itself but the mawkish self-absorption of those who use it for their own ends, who relish the hierarchy of victimhood rather than cherishing the triumph of survival. She spends her nights typing an endless manuscript and repeatedly reminds Kugel of her impressive sales figures.

Jonah — despite being the reason for moving to the country — makes only brief appearances. Bree moves out after Kugel refuses to evict the old lady from the attic.

So it is that Kugel becomes crushed by the weight of his own cultural baggage. He remains caught between the desire to make things better and the belief that disaster lurks behind every street corner throughout the novel, Kugel jots down possible "last words" in a special notebook so that, when the time comes, he will be ready with the appropriate bon mots.

His existential plight is represented in the form of two supporting characters. Kugel seems to have more sympathy with the former: his family might disintegrate around him, he might have an unwanted tenant in the attic, his house might burn down, but at least he can always rely on hopelessness to be his faithful companion.


Hope: A Tragedy

By Janet Maslin Jan. He hopes the tapping sounds in the attic are being made by nothing worse than mice. No such luck. The tapping is from a typewriter.


Anne Frank, Still Writing in the Attic

Shelves: misery-loves-company The title of Hope: A Tragedy alludes to the philosophy of a radically cynical character in the novel named Professor Jove. In lieu of malice and misfortune, Jove blames human misery simply on hope: despite continual evidence to the contrary, humans still foolishly hope for the best and believe a good, reasonably happy life is somehow attainable. In this theory of hope, Hitler becomes an optimist. Although his methods strike us as cruel andyescertainly draconian, he believed a better life was in The title of Hope: A Tragedy alludes to the philosophy of a radically cynical character in the novel named Professor Jove. Although his methods strike us as cruel and—yes—certainly draconian, he believed a better life was in fact possible i. Hope begets disappointment; recurring disappointment begets misery. At least, not without meds.

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