Foer has just edited The New American Haggadah, translated from the Hebrew by fellow author Nathan Englander, and the two shared the stage, though their personalities were hardly a match. Foer was there to slowly and clearly tell the story of how their joint project evolved; Englander to frenetically dive into the ideas inside and engage their abstruse mysticism.
It was perhaps unsurprisingly an older crowd, with a smattering of hip and literate looking people in their 20s with possible inclinations toward Gershom Sholem or Walter Benjamin or others conversant as academics in the old Schocken Books canon.
Like a good writer, Shalom Auslander knows that he should be contradictory. The fun for him is in deconstructing each fluctuation of thought, turning a conversation with himself into a dialectic, considering both the pros and cons of life, death, hope, and despair. In Hope: A Tragedy, this back-and-forth appears as therapy sessions between Solomon Kugel and his therapist, Professor Jove, a celebrity doctor who keeps a kind of anti-inspirational poster with the words "Give up" on his office wall: "It was hope, according to Professor Jove, that was keeping Kugel up all night," the narrator tells us. "It was hope that was making him angry."(1)
Novelist Nathan Englander on writing and theater, the universal appeal of Nora Ephron, and how 'Jewish writing' is not a genre
Since his best-selling debut short-story collection, For Relief of Unbearable Urges, came out in 1999, his name has been mentioned frequently among a generation of writers—Michael Chabon, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith—who found their first success in the rosy pre-9/11 days, but were soon being relied upon to usher literature into a different era. Englander fits the mold as his generation’s New York Jewish storyteller, heir to Roth or Bellow, using Jewish characters and milieus in the way Updike played with WASP ones. When I mentioned this to him, he noted that he prefers a more simple designation, “It took me a long time to see that I’m just telling my stories," he said. "Jews with pride will say you’re a Jewish writer. Then a gentile would say you’re a Jewish writer, but it’s not fucking genre fiction.”