I am a cultural consumer. I like to attend movies, concerts, plays, and museum exhibitions. I read multiple publications, both print and online, in order to know what is happening around town. All of this cultural consumption helps me as I plan for the courses offered through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. These courses do not emerge from thin air—there is a lot of thinking, researching, discussing, and planning that goes into the offerings. So when I come up with something out of the box, such as our upcoming course Anne Frank Redux, I thought it might be interesting to share a little bit about how this course came to be.
First, I love the writing of Shalom Auslander. I have read all of his books and have listened to him on This American Life. Auslander is certainly an acquired taste. He can be caustic, angry, and hilarious at the same time. One of his common tropes is exploring how he, a formerly ultra-Orthodox Jew, navigates America’s freedoms without getting caught up in feelings of guilt for abandoning his faith. He worries about how to raise his children and seems to spend a lot of time dissecting his own neuroses. He raises questions about contemporary society with a unique voice that may at times sting, but always leaves me ruminating. Not for the faint of heart.
Hope: A Tragedy (2012) is Auslander’s first full-length novel. It presents the reader with the absurd notion that Anne Frank didn’t really die but is living in the attic of a New York farmhouse, trying to write a memoir that will outsell her famous The Diary of a Young Girl. Auslander’s book forces deep consideration of how contemporary American Jews and non-Jews think about the Holocaust and its aftermath. There is even a series of trailers for the book in which Auslander calls some of his fellow writers and asks if, in the event of another Holocaust, they would allow him to hide in their attic.
Of course, Auslander is not the first contemporary novelist to envision a still-living Anne Frank. Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer (1979), the first of the Zuckerman series, also invites the reader to imagine that Frank did not actually perish in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but survived and made it to America where she served as a muse for a famous writer. Read a 1979 New York Times review of Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer.
Auslander has often been compared to Roth, and as I read Hope: A Tragedy I, too, sensed a connection. Then I met Taly Ravid, a graduate student in English at UCLA who is specializing in American literature. Taly has taught a wide variety of literature courses at UCLA over the years, and has also had a longtime fascination with American literary treatments of Anne Frank. I shared with Taly my idea of a class comparing these two books—Hope: A Tragedy and The Ghost Writer—and, to my delight, she offered to put a course together for the Skirball. We both felt it would be best for the class to read Anne Frank’s original diary first, then Roth and Auslander as examples of how American writers use the Holocaust to reflect on American life today.
I am usually too busy to take the courses I offer, but I am so excited about this course that I plan to attend this one. It is a valuable opportunity to gain a new perspective on contemporary views of the Holocaust, and to learn not only from an accomplished teacher, but my fellow students as well. It’s not too late to sign up! Enroll here…