New York – Foreskins. Hockey. God. Anne Frank. It has been a long time since Shalom Auslander considered anything too sacred to take on. Even in the world of contemporary American literature, a scene that has always had its share of unique characters, Auslander stands out. Hailed by the "New York Times Book Review" as a "virtuoso humorist" and by the "New York Times" as "an absurdist with a deep sense of gravitas who brings to mind Woody Allen, Joseph Heller and – oxymoron here – a libido-free version of Philip Roth", the 42-year-olds work has been regarded by the likes of "Entertainment Weekly" as "the involuntary laughter at a funeral".
Make no mistake, however: Shalom Auslander is a genuinely nice and sweet guy. Yet one who says and writes things that tend to put people, especially the religious, on edge or to send them over it on a regular basis.
The child of an ultra-orthodox Jewish family from the small town of Monsey, New York, Auslander first became known in 2005 with the short story collection "Beware of God" published by Simon & Schuster, which was followed in 2007 by "Foreskins Lament" (Riverhead), his biggest commercial success so far.
In both works Auslander deals with his strict religious upbringing, his faith, and numerous issues that are connected with them in ways that are as relentless as they are insanely funny. Auslander apostatized from the orthodox Jewish faith when he was in his Twenties. Today, he nevertheless "still believes in God. Somehow", he says. In January his first novel was published by Riverhead: The protagonist of "Hope: A Tragedy" moves into a house in Upstate New York in whose attic, as he discovers, an elderly and foul-mouthed Anne Frank has been hiding ever since having survived the Holocaust and secretly made it to America.
Besides contributing stories to various New York print media outlets (i.e. "Esquire", "Tablet", "The New Yorker", the "Times"), Auslander is a regular contributor to Ira Glass radio show "This American Life" on WBEZ Chicago.
He lives in Woodstock, New York with his wife and their two young children.
Wiener Zeitung: Mr. Auslander, a regional court in Cologne, Germany has just ruled the practice of circumcision unlawful. Announcing his decision, the judge stated that the act is "a violation of the free will of an individual and religious reasons do not outweigh this reasoning". What are your thoughts on this kind of ruling?