Review: Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Book cover of Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

What an ingenious premise – a middle-aged Jewish family man finds an old and decrepit, but very much alive, Anne Frank living in his attic. I expected to 100% completely love this book just based on the brilliant concept. Unfortunately, I found its use of blatant shock tactics and disrespect completely unbearable and I had to struggle to read to the end.

Plot summary – Solomon Kugel has had enough of the past and its burdens. So, in the
hope of starting afresh, he moved his family to a small rural town where
nothing of import has ever happened. Sadly, Kugel’s life isn’t that
simple. His family soon find themselves threatened by a local arsonist
and his ailing mother won’t stop reminiscing about the Nazi
concentration camps she didn’t actually suffer through. And when, one
night, Kugel discovers a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen
of history hiding in his attic, bad very quickly becomes worse.

So I’m fairly hard to offend. You wouldn’t think it, but I am. Seriously though, the way Anne Frank’s memory is treated in Hope: A Tragedy frankly disgusts me. I’ve sure there’s some massive Point that I’m simply not getting and it’s supposed to Mean Something, but I don’t really care.There are probably people reading this thinking what an idiot I am and can’t I calm down and think about it more – I have. I really have. And, frankly, I’m still disgusted.

The title of the novel pretty much sums up the concept of the novel – hope  is mankind’s biggest downfall. If we all refused to hope then we’d all be much happier and none of the Wars would have happened. Hitler was an optimist, after all, and optimists are the pestilence of society. I can roll with this – I don’t like it or agree with it, but it’s not an uninteresting idea and I wanted to see where the author was going with it.

As you can imagine, it ends up being a fairly depressing read. Kugel, the protagonist, is so morbidly whiny that he doesn’t actually seem real somehow – more like a stereotyped 12 year old Goth girl who constantly moans about suicide and death. He annoyed me quite a lot. And yes, it’s not meant to be realistic fiction, but I DON’T CARE!

   There was no need to tell her about the woman in the attic, there really wasn’t. Why upset her? He would deal with it on his own. How difficult could it be to get an elderly Holocaust survivor out of your house? He’d play Wagner. He’d get a German Shepherd. When the UPS man had gone, he’d tell her it had been a man from the Gestapo, asking a lot of questions. A lot of questions.
   Did you shower yet, honey? he would call downstairs to Bree. Because if you showered already I’m going to shower now.
   She’d be out in a day.
   Piece of cake.

There are characters in this book who you loathe just because you know real people exist just like them and it disgusts you. This isn’t a fault of Shalom Auslander, but my abhorrence of Kugel’s mother nearly made me stop reading. She was born in 1946 but pretends to be a Holocaust survivor – she hides bread in the sofa and screams every morning because she heard that’s what the survivors do. 

It’s just shock value. That’s all this book is. When you take out the author’s rape and pillage of Anne Frank’s memory, exploded chipmunks, decapitated cats and Kugel sticking his hand inside a half-dead deer, there’s not much less. It seems to me like an attempt to trick readers into thinking that ‘shocking’ means ‘good.’ It doesn’t.

What books did you think you’d love, but ended up disliking? I genuinely want to know.


  1. Jean says:

    What an utterly bizarro premise. Yick.

    I've had a few books I expected to like–and didn't–this year. But I get rid of them and then forget–I should write them down. One was "Enlightened Sexism," which I expected to agree with and then I was horrified by the incredibly shoddy work. (There is plenty of real evidence out there, no need to make it up!) Just now I returned "Mrs. Bridge" to the library, annoyed by a book that appears to want to convince me that American women have no souls or something.

  2. Think I'll go with the Andy Gavin one I had for review. It sounded like a fantastically gothic piece of fiction that I'd fall in love with but just seemed to be weird for the sake of being different and a bit "out there". Couldn't finish it. Keep telling myself I'll give it another go but then I remember shouting at my Kindle and the scene that nearly made me physically sick which is also funnily enough where I decided enough was enough.

    1. Hanna says:

      That's EXACTLY what happened with this! I held the book very gingerly in case the grossness somehow got onto my fingers, shouted at it, felt horribly ill and then literally threw it across the bed. It's just disgusting. See below (Ellie's comment) for an example…

  3. Ellie says:

    Jeeeezus. You're right, it could have been a novel done really interestingly, but it just sounds revolting. DO NOT WANT.

    My biggest 'how did I not like these books?' surprises to date EVER so far have probably been 'The Bell Jar' and 'Catcher in the Rye'. *Ignores the gasps of horror and quietly wipes ripe tomato off her face* As the stereotypical troubled teenager with bells on – newly-diagnosed manic depressive, screwed up, journal-keeping, poetry-writing, semi-goth, the whole shebang – I expected to find my homeboy and homegirl in these books. I thought they'd speak to me and become my new favourite books because THAT WAS WHAT SALINGER AND PLATH DID FOR TROUBLED TEENS. But I got to the end of both of them none the wiser, and have never dared go back and reread them since. SUCH a disappointment back in the day!

    1. Hanna says:

      I did mention the exploded chipmunks, right? And he hits a deer with his car, walks up to it and puts his hand INSIDE the wound right up to the heart. It's SO gross. Just shock value, seriously.

      I didn't like Catcher in the Rye either – I didn't even finish it. Like you I read it as a teenager, so I MIGHT understand it better now (although I'm not counting on it).

  4. Please tell me that you had already heard of this book before I mentioned it to you and that I am not responsible for you reading this monstrosity?!

    That passage that you've pasted actually does make me feel a bit queasy. Are we joking about victims of the Holocaust now?! Because I don't remember that becoming ok…*shudders*

    I seem to think that my Dad bought this not long ago so I've texted him to WARN him! I mean, really! Who wants to read about deer hears and exploded chipmunks? WHO?!

    What books did I think I would love? Since I can't think of a good example, really, I'm going to go with the random answer of anything by Alice Sebold. My college English teacher spent most of my A-level years telling me how brilliant her writing was so I read "The Lovely Bones" and really didn't like it and then I read "Lucky" and disliked that even more. If someone I respected hadn't told me so often that they were good, I probably still wouldn't have read either and that would have been FINE.

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