The Arty Semite

Who Will Shelter Shalom Auslander?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Anyone who knows Shalom Auslander’s work knows he is haunted by the past — both his own personal past and the collective Jewish one. But for the sake of potential new readers, he is making this fact abundantly clear in the trailers he has made for his soon-to-be-released novel, “Hope: A Tragedy.”

In the trailers, Auslander gets Ira Glass, Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman to play along with him as he riffs on Holocaust guilt and anxiety (“I am a Holocaust survivor. I don’t mean personally. I mean I have survived people who talked about the Holocaust a lot as a kid,” he told New York Magazine in an interview about the trailers.) The clips are funny, but in that iconoclastic, cringe-inducing way that all of Auslander’s work is.

The writer, seen only in silhouette as he paces by his desk in front of his office’s window, asks each of his friends by phone whether they would hide him and his family in their attic if there were another Holocaust. So as not to give away too much, we’ll only say that Glass, Vowell and Hodgman each take an idiosyncratic approach to answering the question. For all three, however, whether they have an actual attic in their home seemed to be a major point of discussion.

The trailers’ audio may be humorous, but their visuals are poignant. As Auslander tries to convince his friends to agree to take him, his wife and two young children in, and we see footage of him and his family playing blissfully in the woods on a rainy day. The writer claims that after waiting for sunny weather for filming last summer, he simply ran out of time and just said, “F*ck it, let’s just do it now.” But it turned out that the choice was right for what his book is about. “The book is about the futility of hope, in a way. And the danger of hope. At a certain point you go, the sun is not coming out anymore. If I could get that way with life in general, I would be much happier,” he said.

Watch Shalom Auslander’s book trailer with Ira Glass:


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