I bought this book spontaneously one day after spending way to much time on bookdepository.com. It had come up as a new release and I loved the cover and the author’s name, Shalom Auslander (his last name translated from German means foreigner).
The book was first published in 2012, but I didn’t actually start reading it until recently. It was one of those books that sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. Even though I don’t believe in fate, I still think that somehow this book was waiting for the right moment to catch my attention. Eventually that day came, and I decided to start reading the book a few days before I took a 3.5hr train ride to Germany. I figured it would be the perfect time to indulge this new book and author and to really see where the writing would take me.
With no real reference points, reviews or friendly recommendations to curb my biases about the book, I began to read. And I was mesmerized. The basic plot outline for this book is that a young Jewish family decide to move to a more country/suburban house to try to help their marriage and sickly child. The house has a funky smell, but is otherwise quaint and homely. The husband (and main character) Kugel begins to hear noises in the attic. After investigating, he finds that there is an old and rather crazy lady who claims to be Anne Frank.
“You’re frightening yourself.
You’re torturing yourself.
It’s delusions of grandeur.
Didn’t sound like mice, though.” (4)
Auslander swaps between prose and poetics as he unveils the complications of marriage, family, and the burden of history. Germany after WWII went through, and is still going through an existential shift alongside the country’s coming to terms with the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung in German). Auslander explores his idea of an American-Jewish man coming to terms with the past as well as issues of guilt and inter-generational trauma.
“Was he really going to throw an elderly, half-mad Holocaust survivor out of his house? Speak of madness! He could never do it, he knew that, even if she was old and emotionally damaged enough to think she was Anne Frank. Pity was a funny thing: it would be easier to throw out the real Anne Frank than it would be to throw out a Holocaust survivor so fucked up by the Holocaust that she thought she was Anne Frank. Can you imagine the headlines? Can you imagine the outrage?” (29)
As cliche as it sounds, I feel like this is a book that you will either love or hate. It is dark and morbid and you find yourself laughing at situations that make you feel uncomfortable. It is eye-opening and thought-inducing. Above it is weird and wonderful.
If you want to find out more about the book or Auslander you can go to his website:
Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? As always, share the reading love.