Friday, 22 August 2008

Beware of God by Shalom Auslander

The rabbi was fed up with his congregation. So, he decided to skip the services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and instead go play golf. Moses was looking down from heaven and saw the rabbi on the golf course. He naturally reported it to God. Moses suggested God punish the rabbi severely. As he watched, Moses saw the rabbi playing the best game he had ever played! The rabbi got a hole-in-one on the toughest hole on the course. Moses turned to God and asked, "I thought you were going to punish him. Do you call this punishment?!" God replied, "Who can he tell?"
Offended? Puzzled? Then best not to read the rest of this review as Beware of God by Shalom Auslander, a compilation of his short stories, moves you into dark, poignant, bittersweet, mocking stories where God has to kill you in order to keep the books straight, or monkeys suffer suicidal consciousness. In “God is a big Chicken” that what God is and Yankel Morgenstern back from the dead has to tell the truth or live the lie. “Holocaust for the Kids” is a montage of apparent quotes and facts and family comments that show up the horror of the Holocaust.

Some of the common themes are animals with human awareness, God dealing with human dilemmas, humans not understanding how God works (the near death experience is
not God saving you but God’s aim being off that day), families struggling and relationships failing. Many of his stories are coloured by his upbringing in a narrow Judaism. As Shalom Auslander says about his highly acclaimed memoir Foreskin Lament, (which if you want to pass my way please feel free).
I was raised in a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York; picture a madrasa somewhere in Taliban Town, change the head coverings to yarmulkes, switch the Korans for Old Testaments and that’s pretty much it. The book is about my life under the thumb of an abusive, belligerent God, and the long-term emotionally crippling effects the fundamentalism of my youth has had and continues to have upon me. But funny. I suppose it didn’t help that my father on Earth was as abusive as my Father in Heaven. Good times, good times.
Its this self-depreciating, prick pomposity humour that drives these well written stories. Unlike many collections, this has diversity and surprise so it avoids the sameness of style or theme that weakens so many other collections. This is down to the quality and cadence of the writing as well as its humour as in this story when God goes to an Ad Agency.
They did concept testing of a number of preliminary taglines and position statements. Nobody in the focus groups like “The Original and Still the Best”, they were spilt on “The Porsche of Deities” and “Feeling Odd? Try God” met with consistent disapproval. One elderly woman took personal offence with the latter, as she understood the tagline to be suggesting that if she believed in God, she must be odd; a meaningful discussion nearly ensure, and an emergency plate of doughnuts was hurried in.
Highly recommended, oh and readers in the UK could rush down to their local Works as the HB is on sale for only 99p. Let me leave the last word to Shalom.
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1 comment:

  1. SOLD! I'm calling the bookstore now to make sure they have a copy in. I've long been a fan of Jewish humor through the likes of Sholom Aleichem, Peretz, Babel, Singer, Roth and Frug. It sounds as if Auslander will be right at home with them.


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