Synopses & Reviews
Shalom Auslander was raised with a terrified respect for God. Even as he grew up and was estranged from his community, his religion and its traditions, he could not find his way to a life where he didn't struggle against God daily. Foreskin's Lament reveals Auslander's youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. Auslander remembers his youthful attempt to win the blessing bee (the Orthodox version of a spelling bee), his exile to an Orthodox-style reform school in Israel after he's caught shoplifting Union Bay jeans from the mall, and his fourteen mile hike to watch the New York Rangers play in Madison Square Garden without violating the Sabbath. Throughout, Auslander struggles to understand God and His complicated, often contradictory laws. He tries to negotiate with God and His representatives-a day of sin-free living for a day of indulgence, a blessing for each profanity. But ultimately, Shalom settles for a peaceful cease-fire, a standoff with God, and accepts the very slim remaining hope that his newborn son might live free of guilt, doubt, and struggle. Auslander's combination of unrelenting humor and anger one that draws comparisons to memoirists David Sedaris and Dave Eggers renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith, family, and community.
"'Auslander, a magazine writer, describes his Orthodox Jewish upbringing as 'theological abuse' in this sardonic, twitchy memoir that waits for the other shoe to drop from on high. The title refers to his agitation over whether to circumcise his soon to be born son, yet another Jewish ritual stirring confusion and fear in his soul. Flitting haphazardly between expectant-father neuroses in Woodstock, N.Y., and childhood neuroses in Monsey, N.Y., Auslander labors mightily to channel Philip Roth with cutting, comically anxious spiels lamenting his claustrophobic house, off-kilter family and the temptations of all things nonkosher, from shiksas to Slim Jims. The irony of his name, Shalom (Hebrew for 'peace'), isn't lost on him, a tormented soul gripped with dread, fending off an alcoholic, abusive father while imagining his heavenly one as a menacing, mocking, inescapable presence. Fond of tormenting himself with worst-case scenarios, he concludes, 'That would be so God.' Like Roth's Portnoy, he commits minor acts of rebellion and awaits his punishment with youthful literal-mindedness. But this memoir is too wonky to engage the reader's sympathy or cut free Auslander's persona from the swath of stereotype and he can't sublimate his rage into the cultural mischief that brightens Roth's oeuvre. That said, a surprisingly poignant ending awaits readers.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Shalom Auslander writes like Philip Roth's angry nephew. Foreskin's Lament is a scathing theological rant, a funny, oddly moving coming-of-age memoir, and an irreverent meditation on family, marriage, and cultural identity. God may be a bit irritated by this book, but I loved it." Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
"If you read this while you're eating, the food will come out your nose. Foreskin's Lament is a filthy and slightly troubling dialogue with God, the big, old, physically abusive ultra orthodox God who brought His Chosen People out of Egypt to torture them with non kosher Slim Jims. I loved this book and will never again look at the isolated religious nutjobs on the fringe of American society with anything less than love and understanding." Matt Klam, author of Sam the Cat
"[A]n audacious, poke-God-in-the-eye memoir written by thirtysomething Shalom Auslander, who waxes hilariously upon the 'theological abuse' he suffered during a strict Orthodox upbringing in Monsey, N.Y." Miami Herald
"Writing with humor and bitter irony about the most personal subjects, with deep, real-world consequences, is no task for an acolyte, although many have tried. With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart, Auslander gives us Foreskin's Lament. Mazel tov to him." New York Times
"[A] terrific book I was sad I read in so few sittings, because I wanted more." San Francisco Chronicle
"Auslander calls God names you're not allowed to call your little brother. I found the book lyrical, hysterical and refreshingly atypical." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Writing funny and angry columns is one thing, but sustaining that pitch of laughter and fury for the length of a book is extraordinarily difficult. Auslander succeeds." Philadelphia Inquirer
"It would be a mistake to construe this book as anti-Semitic. It is, instead, a repudiation of fundamentalisms of all stripes." St. Petersburg Times
“Fierce, funny, and subversively heartfelt...With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart, Auslander gives us Foreskins Lament
. Mazel tov to him. And God? Well, hell survive.”—New York Times Book Review
“Auslander writes like Philip Roths angry nephew... a scathing theological rant, a funny, oddly moving coming-of-age memoir, and an irreverent meditation on family, marriage, and cultural identity. God may be a bit irritated by this book, but I loved it.”—Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
“A laugh-out-loud quarrel with God.”—Newsweek
“A terrific book I was sad I read in so few sittings, because I wanted more.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“Blasphemous and funny.”—Newsweek
“A surprise and delight.”—Boston Globe
“A fretful, self-effacing, bitter…hilarious story.”—The Houston Chronicle
“Wryly comic.”—New York Magazine
“Hilarious, caustic, and surprisingly moving.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“A very funny memoir.”—GQ
“Lyrical, hysterical… funny and angry.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An audacious, poke-God-in-the eye memoir.”—Miami Herald
“Theodore Ross, who may or may not be Jewish, is excellent company on the page. Whether he’s discovering secret Jews in New Mexico, attempting to discern the brighter side of Orthodox Judaism, or interrogating his family members about their own religious foibles and dodges, Am I a Jew?
is always moving, heartfelt, funny, and alive. This is a terrific—and terrifically odd—memoir.”—TOM BISSELL, author of Extra Lives
and Magic Hours
"Am I a Jew is a brilliant American odyssey, one that is both inside and outside of traditions both national and religious; it's also often very funny, and always very empathic; Ross has written a genuinely great book."
—RIVKA GALCHEN, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
"[This] intelligent and altogether entertaining account of searching out the roots of identity will be of interest not only to those who've asked, 'Am I a Jew?' but also to anyone who's ever wondered, 'What am I, anyway?' One finishes this book thankful for a fuller understanding of the diverse strains within the Jewish tradition and not a little awed by the writer's compelling mix of skepticism, candor, and love."
—GARRET KEIZER, author of Privacy and The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want
"An elegant guide for the perplexed inhabitants of our increasingly disorienting world, Am I a Jew? is a profound meditation on the nature of modern identity."
—ROGER HODGE, author of The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism
In his bitingly funny memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional Jewish family and wrestling with a vengeful God, Auslander's combination of unrelenting humor and anger renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith, family, and community.
A New York Times Notable Book, and a chaotic, laugh riot” (San Francisco Chronicle) of a memoir.
Shalom Auslander was raised with a terrified respect for God. Even as he grew up and was estranged from his community, his religion and its traditions, he could not find the path to a life where he didnt struggle daily with the fear of Gods formidable wrath. Foreskins Lament reveals Auslanders painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious” youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox Jewish community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. His combination of unrelenting humor and anger renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith and family.
I was nine years old when my mother forced me to convert to Christianity
When Theodore Ross moved from New York City to small-town Mississippi, his mother insisted that the family pretend to not be Jewish. He was sent to an Episcopal school, where he studied the Bible, sang in the choir, and even took communion. As an adult, he abandoned the religious charade, but wondered: Am I a Jew? In search of an answer, Ross immersed himself within communities on the fringes of Jewish identityCrypto-Jews,” Lost Tribes,” the ultra-Orthodox, and more. Filled with humor, curiosity, and sincerity, Am I a Jew? explores Americas riotous religious diversity, and one mans quest to stake a claim within it.
About the Author
Shalom Auslander was raised in Monsey, New York. Nominated for the Koret Award for writers under thirty-five, he has written for The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and is a regular contributor to NPR's "This American Life," His short story collection, Beware of God, was published in 2005. He lives in New York.