Sunday, January 13, 2008

Indelicate Sunday Salon - January 13, 2008

My daughter checked my Amazon wish list before Christmas and chose three books for me... I'd forgotten that I had a wish list at Amazon dot COM since I've been using Amazon dot CA exclusively of late. It was a long time since I'd looked at the dot com list so on Christmas day when I unwrapped this book my jaw went slack. I'd completely forgotten. I suppose it's good that I did because it was the perfect present, one that I would never buy for myself. I mean, I was interested alright, but I wouldn't have wanted anyone to see me looking at it...

I've always been drawn to things Jewish - felt a connection somehow. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother were Esthers...maybe somebody forgot to tell me?... (Quite honestly, I don't think so, but I told my daughter that she can count on me to convert if she finds the perfect Jewish fiance and needs a Jewish mother to 'seal the deal'.) I came across a review of this book somewhere (probably Debra's blog again) ages ago and absent-mindedly put it on the 'to buy' list. I understood it to be a 'slice' (gasping for breath at my own highly-evolved sense of humour...) of Orthodox Jewish culture.

The first thing to surprise me was the author's photograph. I expected a nerd and instead found myself looking at Mr. Intensity, a stereotypical football tackle. The next revelation was that Jewish people are not all perfect parents. (I had thought they might be.)

The book troubles me though. The author, Shalom Auslander, seems to be a very hurt, angry man. I don't think this is going to help him at all. I imagine it will cause grief to his family and it's not helping Jews much either.

I think Shalom has increased my understanding of the Jewish experience and I may withdraw that offer to my daughter... It strikes me that these wonderful people are slaves to history - haunted by it, hating it, and yet clinging to it. The group I've been reading about seem to fasten a ball-and-chain around each new infant's leg, expecting the child to abandon any hope for joy. It's no way to live. Shalom's stories about his family are heartbreaking. He's got good reason to complain. And yet...and yet...

Shalom, Let it go! I know you're hurt. Believe me, a painful childhood is not a unique experience. You're an adult now and you can't continue to rail against your family forever. Your mother and father were responsible for you when you were a child and they failed you. But how long are you going to hate them for their frailty? Let it go! I'll tell you what's worked for me: Look at your family as a long line of brothers and sisters. You had the misfortune to be raised by a brother and sister who weren't very good at the job. They were flawed, imperfect people. Forgive them and move on. Really, it's possible to still love imperfect people. And if you don't have it in your heart to do it for them, do it for yourself. This anger is not good for you or the brothers and sisters who'll be entrusted to your care. Your parents have some forgiving to do too, now that you've publicly humiliated them...

So...It's a pretty good book. There's humour (bitter, edgy humour), a couple of insults for the Gentiles and even more for the Jews. And I'm getting my peek into the Orthodox household.

12pm: I've read a hundred, nine pages so far - seven chapters - and I'm not sure I'll finish the book. It's decent-enough writing, and there have been some really amusing vignettes but I feel terrible to be laughing at the pain and dysfunction of this family. I remind myself that Auslander is writing from a different culture and a different generation - I shouldn't be so offended by vulgarity. I acknowledge that I am a 'prude' and I am still reading...


A thought: At one point Auslander tells us that his rabbis at the yeshiva school predicted that one day he would be a great rabbi himself. The young man he portrays seemed to be sincerely trying to live a righteous life in spite of everything. I'm wondering if he might not in fact have become a positive force in his community were it not for the negative effect of his family. Such a pity. (Who was it who said "We spend the second half of our lives trying to recover from the first half"?)




The offer's off the table, Martha. I'm not converting. I don't really fancy organized religion much anyway...


I'm going to look at this book next. I've read it before...there's a chapter on Adolph Hitler that almost has a 'synchronicity' to Auslander's book.

Shalom, I think you need to move to Hawaii and immerse yourself in the 'Aloha Spirit'. Instead of separating yourself in a community bent on exclusion you need to find a community that is non-discriminating and embraces everyone. You need to find some happiness.

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2 Comments:

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

Yes, you probably picked this up from my blog! But I don't think I had as personal a response to the book as you.

On the other hand, I'm more apt than you, I imagine. to appreciate the angry denunciation of religious inculcation.

 
At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Myrthe said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book, Susan. I had come across some literary critics' reviews of it and the book had gotten me interested - I have a thing for Jewish(-American) literature, so it wasn't too hard to get me interested ;-). But I think you are the first blogger I come across who has written about the book. I am off to Debra's blog now to look for what she wrote.

 

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