Magazine article The Spectator

Frank Exchange of Views

Magazine article The Spectator

Frank Exchange of Views

Article excerpt

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander Picador, £16.99, pp. 292, ISBN 9781447207658 Solomon Kugel is morbidly obsessed with death: his own, and that of those he loves, including his wife Bree and his only son Jonah. He spends his idle hours writing down possible last words in a notebook, and contemplating the undignified and senseless extinctions that await him around every corner.

His outlook is not helped by his therapist, Professor Jove, who is convinced that hope is the cause of all human suffering and works hard to extinguish it; nor by his brother-in-law, the unsubtly named evolutionary biologist Pinkus Stephenor - a professional optimist whose latest book is You've Got To Admit It's Getting Better, A Little Better All The Time. (He is a bestseller; Jove can't get his book published. ) As Hope: A Tragedy opens, Kugel, Bree, Jonah and his moribund old mother have moved to a converted farmhouse in Stockton - a town attractive precisely because nothing ever happened there. History has passed it by. It feels safe.

But then their new home turns out to have a strange smell. A scratching noise can be heard through the vents. Rats? Or, worse, the serial arsonist who has been burning down farmhouses like this one all round the area? When Kugel climbs into the attic to investigate, he finds neither a nest of rats nor a clanking pipe, but an unsavoury old lady pecking away at a typewriter. He asks who she is, and she tells him she's Anne Frank. Their first conversation ends badly.

He announces he's going to call the police and stomps off:

Kugel stopped at the head of the attic stairs.

And let me tell you something else, he said.

She continued to type, paying him no attention.

I don't know who you are, he said, or how you got up here. But I'll tell you what I do know: I know Anne Frank died in Auschwitz.

And I know that she died along with many others, some of whom were my relatives. And I know that making light of that, by claiming to be Anne Frank, not only is not funny and abhorrent but it also insults the memory of millions of victims of Nazi brutality.

The old woman stopped typing and turned to him, fixing that hideous yellow eye upon his.

It was Bergen-Belsen, jackass, she said.

Kugel continued to glare at her, even as he felt a flush of shame colour his face. He turned and began climbing down the stairs.

And as for the relatives you lost in the Holocaust? she continued.

Kugel stopped and looked at her, and when she did, she yanked up her right shirtsleeve, revealing the fading blue-black concentration camp numbers tattooed on the inside of her pale forearm.

Blow me, said Anne Frank. …

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