Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir
By Shalom Auslander
Picador, 320 pages
Reviews edited by Andy Ross
Reviewed by Ian Sansom
The Guardian, March 1, 2008
Auslander describes himself as religious but he is an apostate.
In religious terms, he is a denier and a transgressor, yet he can't escape his
deeply ingrained religious habits of mind.
As an adolescent and as a young man, Auslander has the heart and soul, and the
fine black hat of a frummer, but the body and the urges of an Alexander Portnoy.
Large parts of the book detail Auslander's youthful addiction to pornography.
He makes several attempts at self-diagnosis. The religious, he suggests, suffer
from "a metaphysical form of Stockholm syndrome. Held captive by this Man for
thousands of years, we now praise Him, defend Him, excuse Him, sometimes kill
for Him". Elsewhere he posits that what he is suffering from is "theological
abuse". "It involves adults, known or unknown to the underage victim, telling
them a Lunatic runs the world, that He's spying on them, that He's waiting for
them to break a rule."
Which brings us to Auslander's agonies over whether or not to have his son
circumcised. "Why don't you just punch him the face?" suggests a friend,
appalled that Auslander is even considering observing the ritual. "Wait eight
days, invite the family over, put out some wine and kugel, and just punch him in
the fucking face."
This is not a book to read if you're in search of fine theological argument.
But, if you want a laugh ...
Reviewed by William Sutcliffe
The Independent, 24 February 2008
Shalom Auslander has launched a new sub-genre, the Anger memoir.
Auslander's anger is directed at two entities: his family and God.
Born into a family of ultra-orthodox Jews in Monsey, New York, Auslander was
brought up under a regimen of brutally strict religious observance. Quite aside
from the religion, his home was never a happy place. What makes this memoir
original and interesting is where it dwells on the writer's other adversary:
God. Never, frankly, can there have been a more blasphemous book.
His most sacrilegious act occurs on a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,
the holiest place on the planet for Jews, where if you write a prayer on a piece
of paper and place it in the cracks between the stones, these will supposedly be
the first prayers answered by God. Auslander writes "Fuck you", and shoves it
into the wall.
If there is a defining thread that runs through Jewish-American literature it is
in the ability of writers to intermingle pain and humour seamlessly. Shalom
Auslander comes directly out of this tradition.
Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir
By Shalom Auslander
Riverhead, 312 pages
Reviewed by Benjamin Anastas
New York Times, October 21, 2007
It has been another good year for God everywhere but in the bookstores. Now
Shalom Auslander has entered the ring, flying off the ropes, pro-wrestling
style, with his memoir.
''My relationship with God,'' Auslander writes in a typically bracing passage,
''has been an endless cycle not of the celebrated 'faith followed by doubt,' but
of appeasement followed by revolt; placation followed by indifference; please,
please, please followed by'' -- well, a series of rebukes that can't be printed
To Auslander, the God of the Jews is a great divider, tearing apart families
over questions of ritual and turning life into a chessboard ruled by
commandments and laws no human being could ever fulfill. After discovering as a
rebellious teenager that a yarmulke and zizits are a license to shoplift,
Auslander is shipped off by his parents to a yeshiva for wayward teenagers in
Israel: ''Israelis sold pot, I was told, and Arabs sold hashish; I didn't know
what hope there could possibly be for the Middle East if they couldn't even
agree on how to get high.''
Framing these episodes is the story of Auslander's excitement and dread as he
and Orli prepare to have their first child, a son. Why the dread? Well, for
starters, there is the knife. And after that, the Covenant with God that
Auslander has spent a lifetime trying to nullify by finding an escape clause.
''Thousands of years ago,'' Auslander writes of the Prophet Jeremiah, ''a
terrified, half-mad old man genitally mutilated his son, hoping it would buy him
some points with the Being he hoped was running the show. ... Six thousand years
later, a father will not look his grandson in the face, and a mother and sister
will defend such behavior, because the child wasn't mutilated in precisely the
With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart,
Auslander gives us this memoir. Mazel tov to him.
by Gideon Lewis-Kraus
LA Times, October 14, 2007
As a child in the strictly Orthodox Jewish community of the upstate New York
town of Monsey, Shalom Auslander was a victim of what he half-seriously calls
Auslander's book is not about how he disburdened himself of religious anxiety.
It is about how even now the Lunatic continues to consume him. "I read Spinoza.
I read Nietzsche. I read National Lampoon. Nothing helps. I live with Him every
day, and behold, He is still angry, still vengeful, still -- eternally -- pissed
The book is full of shtick. There is shtick about his self-abuse with his
mother's Oil of Olay: "I was depressed and I was lonely, but my genitals never
looked younger." In turning his terrible fear to bathos, he cheapens his story.
Auslander takes theodicy as a given of the world; he doesn't consider the
possibility that it is instead a function of his religious psychology. Why, he
refuses to ask, does he feel such a strong need to believe in a God that is so
This disinclination for self-examination seems behind the shtick. Great Jewish
clown intellects such as Woody Allen could carry off absurdist responses to an
irrational God because they didn't seem to really believe in one. But
Auslander's digressions on divine absurdity culminate in the deaths of people he
loves. The humor fails.
This book could have been an intimate and widely relevant story about how a
sense of heavenly irrationality gained such dominion over his imagination.
Auslander did have a very difficult childhood.
AR Horrible. I will not
read such stuff.