Shalom Auslander doesn't pull many punches. His memoir, about growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in New York state, is called Foreskin's Lament. In it he quotes his wife's assessment of him, that he was theologically abused.
His new novel is Hope, A Tragedy. In which a man finds Anne Frank living in his attic.
The author grew up with Yahweh and Hitler, and was unsure which one of them was crazier. That's how he put it when I spoke to him on the phone during his recent visit to the UK, to appear at the Jewish Book Week in London. (I can't help but wonder how that went. Did he escape alive?)
Shalom's Anne Frank is an old angry woman bitter about the way her diary has been turned into a holocaust industry. It's an outrageous premise but this novel manages to be just as funny as it is serious. And Auslander is very serious. This book is a thoughtful muse on the nature of history and what it should mean to us.
Here's a clip from the interview which also features in the Big Issue Magazine. On the streets week beginning Monday March 19
You are really taking on a Jewish icon here. A Jewish saint, really.
Oh, at least. As she says in the book, Jesus was a Jew but I'm the Jewish Jesus
So what is going on with this premise, why Anne Frank?
Well the bigger question for me is why hope? That to me is the real sacred cow of the book that I'm dealing with. If you look backward in history and see all the horribleness we have done to one another you can sort of assume it is going to happen again. What is the role of hope is it just to get you through - or is it a negative, does it make it worse?
Once that is something I was dealing with and I had a character whose flaw was hope I thought, what can I throw at this guy that is something to deal with immediately
And you chose Anne Frank, because she had lived in hope?
To some degree in my head it was here is this guy who has a son and a wife and wants nothing more than to start over without the weight of history behind him. And here comes the very symbol of suffering. If I was a Christian maybe it would have been Christ up there who had turned into a cynical old man, not the guy he was when he was young. For me, just because of the way I was raised the natural fit was Anne Frank. That tickled me the most. Her role isn’t 'Holocaust' it is 'history'. To her as an old woman it is an affront to everything she was as a child that she is miss holocaust 1945. That she has become misery and death for the world.