Some hilarously uncomfortable Jewish memoirs

2009-06-10 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Foreskin’s Lament Shalom Auslander

Picador

THERE always seems to be a huge market for memoirs of awful childhood.

Whether you were devastatingly poor, abused, misunderstood or whatever, there are people out there who can’t get enough of it. I’ve never been quite sure why, but maybe it makes them think: well, I didn’t have it so bad after all.

Shalom Auslander grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in the United States, and whatever he did wrong, God was going to punish him and those he loved. And the punishments were set to be terrible.

Auslander and God didn’t get along right from the beginning because, in Auslander’s family, pretty well everything was a sin, and due for punishment.It’s hard to shake off that kind of upbringing. Auslander finally rejects his family and their values, cutting himself off as completely as he can.

But it is harder to lose the sense of guilt and impending doom they have instilled in him — for instance, when his wife is pregnant, he spends his time imagining ever more terrible scenarios.

It makes for a book that shifts between hilarious and very uncomfortable reading.

It is not the best memoir I have ever read, not by a long way, but it should certainly serve as an awful warning about how not to handle your children. And if you want to reflect that maybe you didn’t have it quite so tough after all, this is the one for you.

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