K's Reviews > Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
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's review
Nov 06, 2011

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bookshelves: memoirs, intense-sad-dark-or-bleak, jewish, spiritualityreligion
Read from November 06 to 07, 2011

It's challenging to give a rating to this book, so I'll just stick with a nice neutral three. As an Orthodox Jew, it's hard to keep my own feelings out of it, feelings which fell all over the map. So I guess three is a fair rating, since love-hate is probably the best description of my reading experience.

I loved the writing. Some of the lines were laugh-out-loud funny ("Geographically speaking, Israel has only two seasons: Holy Crap It's Hot, and Holy Crap It's Cold."), and I loved a style he used which might almost be called poetic at times. And I should be ashamed to admit this I guess, but there are times when my relationship with God is not all that different from Shalom's. Sure, I'm a heck of a lot more committed to observing the commandments than he is, but I do find myself railing at God in low moments and wondering when He plans to drop the other shoe on me. Shalom gave voice to this in a way no author I've read has.

Here's what I didn't love and sometimes hated. Although I sympathized with Shalom's horrific family dysfunction and tried not to judge him, there were times when the self-pity and one-dimensional perspective got on my nerves. And although this may sound trivial, I didn't get the Slim Jims appeal. As I nibbled my anticlimactic kosher food while reading this I thought, do I wish I were eating a Slim Jim? The answer was, no, not particularly. Okay, clearly Shalom's rebellion went much deeper and the non-kosher food was merely symbolic, but I think he failed at getting me to see that. There was a line which I can't quote verbatim but came across to me as, why can't my family love me even though I love non-kosher food? To anyone who grew up Orthodox, this is a highly simplistic and facile understanding of what's going on here. I know it has to be more complicated than that, Shalom's parents could surely tell you it's more complicated than that, and I suspect even Shalom himself knows it. But you wouldn't know it from reading the book.

And that's where the book disappointed me, because he took a great topic with a lot of potential and ended up reducing it to the repeated theme of God as the angry, vengeful father who will damn you if you do and damn you if you don't. It was a good theme, and he did it well, but the book could have been so much better had he depicted his family and his life and his rebellion in a more nuanced manner and not simply resorted to repeating his chorus.

It's a good try, Shalom, and you're a good writer. I hope your next book will be better. And I hope NCSY ropes in your kid. That would be so God.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Reese Your review has made me want to read this book -- and read it before other works that have been near the top of my to-read list for quite a while.

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks, Reese! If/when you get to it, I'd love to hear what you think.

message 3: by Rachayl (new)

Rachayl Hi, a bit backlogged on review reading :)
Interesting take on this book, which I have never read. However, I have read a couple of columns by Auslander and an interview with him about the book. Eli, who did not seem to relate to Auslander's attitude toward God at all, found him generally dispicable for a)his attitude toward his family - airing too much dirty laundry about them, and not letting his kid(s?) have a relationship with them. b) lacking much philosophical depth about religion.
I, like you, could very much (but somewhat guiltily) relate to his angry moods toward God, and I thought he wrote well too.

message 4: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Hi, Rochy! It's always fun to connect with you on goodreads. Anyway, I hear both you and Eli. Although you seem to be more on my page, I definitely hear where Eli is coming from re. Shalom's attitude toward his family. Aside from everything else, it's a bit immature to paint them so one-dimensionally; surely they're not as villainous as all that. Ditto for the lack of philosophical depth. Like I said, there was something almost reductionistic about it -- I like Slim Jims, ergo I don't want to be religious; my grandmother died, ergo I'm not religious any more; I'm in Israel, and now I'm wearing a black hat. It's hard to believe it was as simplistic as all that, but that's how it came across at times. I appreciated the book despite these flaws, but I do hear how they might ruin the book for someone else.

message 5: by Rachayl (new)

Rachayl Also, I might add that in RBS the two seasons are more like "quite pleasant" and "fires of hell". We seem to be well into the first, fortunately.
And also, I wonder whether those "Kabanos" they sell here taste like Slim Jims. Maybe we can yet save this tortured soul.

message 6: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Glad to hear you're weather's nice. I don't remember Kabanos. Are they kosher? Something tells me Slim Jims would be pretty rubbery and processed-tasting. If I were going to risk my soul, I'd probably choose something else.

message 7: by rivka (new)

rivka Traditional Polish kabanos are made of pork. However, in the past 10-15 years, many Israeli and American cold-cut makers have started making mini-kabanos out of turkey. They're quite tasty.

Slim Jims are spicy beef jerky, so a bit different from kabanos (either type). But you can pretty easily get kosher beef jerky, so that does seems an odd reason (or even excuse).

message 8: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Oh, yes -- I remember kabanos now. A friend of mine cut them into a pasta salad once -- very tasty. Agreed re. the Slim Jims as an excuse, although I don't know how readily available kosher beef jerky was when we were growing up and Auslander is from our generation, even a few years older if I'm not mistaken.

message 9: by rivka (new)

rivka Ah, ok. Probably wasn't so easy to get kosher jerky before 15-20 years back. Maybe more like 10-15, even.

Diced kabanos in pasta salad, huh? We'll have to try that sometime.

message 10: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Yes -- give it a try. I don't remember what else she put in there or how she dressed it, but I do remember thinking that the kabanos definitely enhanced the salad.

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