by Shalom Auslander
About the Book
Solomon Kugel is looking for great last words. He records them in a notebook. After his son contracts pneumonia and cracks appear in his marriage, Kugel moves his family to Stockton, a town with a history for nothing. He is trying to escape history. His Mother comes to join them in Stockton. She is suffering from having been born at the wrong time in the wrong country and from having life too good. One day Kugel finds Anne Frank in his attic.
When I first read this book I thought it was brilliant. It is darkly comedic about how history has an effect on our lives even if you are removed from it. In particular it talks about how the Holocaust affects Jewish people around the world, but more particularly in America. It is about survivors guilt, even if they had left Europe years before and weren't directly affected by it. I think it has a wide audience than that though. I think it is about how people removed from major events have survivors guilt... or at least a shared experience of it and how it can be abused.
There are some interesting propositions that turns up within the book such as:
He (Professor Jove) was, in a sense, the distillation of all of Western and Easter thought of the past two thousand years combined, and it was Professor Jove’s opinion, standing as only someone today could, on the twenty first century peak of all history, heir to all mankind's experience, wisdom and knowledge, that the greatest source of misery in the world, the greatest cause of anguish and hatred and sadness and death, was neither disease nor race nor religion.Now that it's been a while since I finished the book, I think I have a different view of Kugel. He annoys me a bit now. In that he did ridiculous things to make things easier for his mother, or for Anne Frank, instead of trying to change things and make things easier for himself and his wife. I still think the book is really good and has an interesting message... but I'm just not sure I actually liked any of the characters... His mother did have some funny lines though and as I had to return the book to the library you will have to read it for yourself to find out what they are!
It was hope. Hope? Kugel asked. Pessimists, Professor Jove replied, don’t start wars. It was hope, according to Professor Jove, that was keeping Kugel up at night. It was hope that was making him angry. (p32)
I am beginning to be more aware that I tend to read and watch things in themes without being completely conscious of it. I am working my way through the DVDs of Northern Exposure which features a Jewish doctor from New York, who is always reminding us that he is Jewish. Philip Roth is a Jewish writer and his book The Plot Against America is concerned with how easy it would be for a Holocaust to happen in America, or anywhere in the world really. Now this one. I read somewhere recently that reading fiction makes you more empathetic towards people and I think reading this type certainly does.