What would you do if Amelia Earhart showed up, aged in real time, in your parents’ house when you here a kid? What about if it turned out that the groundbreaking female aviator had been smuggled off the atoll where she had landed, and brought her to your parents’ attic before they bought the house, and that you couldn’t possibly throw out Amelia Earhart even as she became more and more claustrophobic, eccentric, and unsanitary? Take the thought experiment a little further, and imagine that you and your parents came from a long line of aviators, dating back to a decade after the Wright Brothers managed to get an engine powered aircraft to fly in 1903 Now let’s say that you’re Jewish, the year is 2012, and you find that the woman in the attic wasn’t Amelia Earhart, but rather Anne Frank, the girl who died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Or so you thought.
Shalom Auslander does just this kind of a thought experiment with the Kugels (nu, you expected the Murphys?), who buy the house from the Messerschmidts, who hid Anne, who had become accustomed to hiding in attics. In the words of the senior Messerschmidt, no matter that he was the fifth generation of Messerschmidt to own that farmhouse, he was certain that the headlines would have read, “Fifty Years after Hitler, Germany claims its 6,000,001st victim,” or some such nonsense, and believes that the new Jewish owner will be able to do what he could not. Fat chance, Senior. As Solomon Kugel’s mother, living in a room that Solomon and his wife Bree were counting on renting, told him, “You want I should give you Elie Wiesel’s address next, and you can turn him out too?”
Auslander turns the entire novel into two meditations. First, what is death? And how does one greet it? Dozens of last words are quoted by Auslander’s protagonist Solomon (Auslander’s first name, Shalom, is nearly eponymous with the Hebrew name for Solomon, “Sh’lomo”) who muses again, in sometimes rough language, what his own last words and epitaph would be. Second, Auslander explorer our responsibility to the past and to each other. In particular, he seems to treat Solomon’s wife, who shrilly opposes Kugel’s mother living with them and doesn’t accept Anne Frank’s presence for a minute, with kid gloves, as if she held the opinions and made the demands that even Solomon thought were right and just – but impossible.
Auslander’s style is so satiric that it is difficult to treat his writing seriously, but serious it is. This is literary fiction that entertains, introspection along with knee-slapping, profundity spoken with profanity. The author of Foreskin’s Lament covers some of the same territory as Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (https://3throughhistory.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/review-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-anne-frank-by-nathan-englander-knopf-2012/), but does so in a way that the book can be enjoyed in the context of Sara Silverman-style in-my-own-face humor.