Started reading August 31, finished reading Sept 7.
I’ve been planning on starting this memoir for at least a year. I read an excerpt a while ago in the New Yorker, and not long after, the cute toile-covered book appeared in our house, courtesy of one of Josh’s nice book reps. But with something else always waiting to be read, this memoir of a yeshiva-boy-gone-bad kept getting bumped down the list. It was only this challenge (and that I needed non-fiction this week) that prompted me to start (and finish) it. Yeah, that makes it sounds as if I didn’t enjoy the book, which is not true–It’s just really disturbing.
Auslander grew up in a very observant orthodox Jewish community and was told pretty much from the beginning all the bad things that would happen to him if he didn’t follow God’s every word. This really did a number on him. And I thought I was neurotic. Wow. Worrying is indeed a learned behavior (thankyouverymuch, family & Hebrew school) but now I see how I escaped relatively unnscathed: Shalom Auslander’s family and teachers really screwed him up. He began rebelling when he was around 8. And what would be considered run-of-the-mill rebellion for regular teenagers (shoplifting, porn… eating non-kosher) is really bad in his community. The book jumps back and forth from his childhood and adolescence to the present day and includes an ongoing dialog with God, as well as a lot of discussion about circumcision. Thus the title, which is quite apt. (And take a close look at those cover images – upon further inspection, I discovered that the sweet toile print actually isn’t misleading at all.) Auslander is a terrific writer but his story is much more about why his own life was screwed up than about why religious Jews are the way they are. He covers the neuroses and the confusion and the whys, and for people who grew up in similar communities, parts of this book will really ring true. And for people like me, who know religious Jews but are themselves more secular, this is a rather compelling insider tell-all. But if this your introduction to Jewish people, I’d start out with someone a lot less troubled.