Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Audiobook review: Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander

Book Summary
Shalom Auslander was raised with a terrified respect for God. Even as he grew up and was estranged from his community, his religion and its traditions, he could not find his way to a life where he didn't struggle against God daily. 

Foreskin's Lament reveals Auslander's youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. Auslander remembers his youthful attempt to win the "blessing bee" (the Orthodox version of a spelling bee), his exile to an Orthodox-style reform school in Israel after he's caught shoplifting Union Bay jeans from the mall, and his fourteen mile hike to watch the New York Rangers play in Madison Square Garden without violating the Sabbath. Throughout, Auslander struggles to understand God and His complicated, often contradictory laws. He tries to negotiate with God and His representatives-a day of sin-free living for a day of indulgence, a blessing for each profanity. But ultimately, Shalom settles for a peaceful cease-fire, a standoff with God, and accepts the very slim remaining hope that his newborn son might live free of guilt, doubt, and struggle. 

Auslander's combination of unrelenting humor and anger--one that draws comparisons to memoirists David Sedaris and Dave Eggers--renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith, family, and community.

Flo's Review
My good friend Jose and I did that thing where we read one of each other's favorite books. I'm having him read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. He gave me Foreskin's Lament. 

Have you ever tried to bargain with God? I absolutely have. Like, "Hey, God, please let me get X, and I promise I'll do Y." Well, this is Shalom Auslander. Shalom was raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish household and has been bargaining with God all his life. It's interesting to hear Shalom's view on God, because it is relatable. He lets the reader inside his head as he is rationalizing his actions and you can see where he's coming from. As I was listening to this audiobook I found myself thinking at several points, "Oh my gosh, that's horrible!" ....but then also...

I love autobiographies and my favorite audiobooks are ones where the author is reading them, so I hit the jackpot here on both these accounts. Shalom's voice is perfect for his humor, which is wry and can be subtle. Shalom is also an excellent writer. He is a circular writer -- he reuses the same phrases in different parts of the same chapters and it works really well. It was fun to listen to. 

An interesting note about this audiobook is that it's the only one I've listened to where the pictures are described for the reader. I think because this is an older one, from 2007. But you hear at the end that it's actually his wife Orli who reads the picture descriptions. And then at the very end his son has a little cameo and it's absolutely adorable.

Foreskin's Lament is the kind of book that will make you laugh while shaking your head, will make you feel sad while also feeling mad. It takes a generally accepted idea -- God is good -- and says, "Well..." If you are easily offended, this might not be the book for you. But if you grew up as a part of any religion, you will find something to relate to here. 

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