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Book Reviews   |    
Hope: A Tragedy

by Shalom Auslander; New York, Penguin, 2012, 304 pages, $26.95

Reviewed by Sandra Steingard, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.631212
View Author and Article Information

Dr. Steingard is with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Howard Center, Burlington, Vermont.

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As the title suggests, this witty novel is a rumination on the power and disappointment of hope. The protagonist is a man who is caught between the obligation and love he feels toward his mother, a wannabe Holocaust survivor; his wife, a pragmatic woman who is generally tolerant but exasperated by her husband’s follies; and his young son, who has recently recovered from a serious illness. In an effort to protect them all, he moves his family from the city to what he hopes will be a rural zone of comfort. As happens in this sort of relocation, he finds only that his internal demons follow him to the country, where he soon learns that he has been burdened with yet another woman who is in need of his protection.

Our hero, Sol Kugel, attempts without success to reach his “trusted guide and advisor,” the preeminent Professor Jove, who believes that most of man’s failings can be attributed to hope. The sign above the professor’s desk reads, “Give up, you will live longer.” Without his guide, Sol ends up veering between what he believes the professor would tell him and his own inevitable lurching toward hope.

Despite its focus on death and destruction (Kugel spends much of his time thinking of his own epitaph), this is a funny book. It captures its characters’ humanity while diving into the deep end of the absurd.

Shalom Auslander openly acknowledges his debt to his Jewish heritage as well as his Jewish novelist forefathers, including Philip Roth and Franz Kafka. Auslander is the author of two other books, Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir and Beware of God: Stories. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, GQ, and The New Yorker. He also writes a column for, as he puts it on his own Web site, “a terrific website called Tablet Magazine, if you happen to be a well-read, over-educated, left-wing, possibly gay, probably hipster secular Jew.” I fit a number of those categories, so this may explain why I was so happy to find this book and this author.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

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