This book review was first published as “Anne Frank in his attic: A young American Jewish writer tackles the Holocaust’s legacy with piercing dark humor” in The Jerusalem Report magazine.
Quite a number of years ago, I went to a gallery in New York that was exhibiting never-before-seen black and white photos of Anne Frank and her family, all taken by her father Otto Frank.
They were of a very young Anne, the one who lived happily and safely before going into hiding from the Nazis. There I stood, feeling at once discombobulated and more than a little intrusive. I wanted to see the Anne Frank who came before the war, because I, like everyone else, knew that there is no Anne Frank who lived after it.
Shalom Auslander, author of the 2007 memoir, “Foreskin’s Lament,” knew this too, but he did not let this historical fact get in the way of the main conceit of his absurdist debut novel, “Hope: A Tragedy.” In it, not only is Anne Frank alive (though not entirely well), but she is also an exceedingly cranky and nasty old woman, squatting in a farmhouse attic in rural upstate New York.
The farmhouse newly belongs to protagonist Solomon Kugel, who has moved in with his Jewish wife and young son. Stockton, a town of no historical importance whatsoever, seemed to Kugel the perfect place to get away from life in the city and more, importantly, to escape the burdens of both his own and the collective Jewish past. However, with Anne in his at- tic, it would seem that Kugel isn’t going to have much luck in achieving his goal. And, indeed, he doesn’t.
The rudely demanding, stinking, wretched, matza-eating old Anne is a force to be reckoned with. The uninvited house guest, who has numbers tattooed on her arm, contends that she survived Bergen-Belsen and has been hidden by guilt-ridden gentiles every since. She’s been working on a novel all these decades – a never-ending, highly daunting task, given that she couldn’t possibly allow herself to publish a work, unless it were good enough to guarantee sales in excess of the 32 million copies of her diary that have been sold worldwide. “It’s a tough act to follow,” Kugel agrees with her.
And, as if Anne Frank in his attic were not enough for Kugel to endure, he also has to deal with his elderly, demented mother who has moved in with him and his family, as well as with an arsonist on the loose in Stockton who is targeting farmhouses like Kugel’s.
There is a lot for the neuroses-prone Kugel to worry about – and worry he does. Once Auslander reveals that Anne is physically up in the attic, the rest of the book is about her being figuratively there.
You can read the rest of this review in the April 23, 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Report. No online link to it is available at this time.
© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.