Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question is Howard Jacobson's newest book and the 2010 Man Booker Prize winner. The story begins with three men in London, two of whom are recent widowers coping with their loss. The third, Julian Treslove, has never been married but embraces the opportunity to mourn loss whenever he can. After Treslove shares a dinner with the two widowers, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevick, Treslove is mugged on the streets of London in what he believes may have been an antisemitic attack. Treslove, however, is not Jewish. The mugging is the catalyst for Treslove to explore his belief that he is Jewish. His father played the violin, he likes opera and he is mournful; therefire, he must be a Jew. The novel shares Treslove's exploration of his so-called Jewishness.

One of the widowers, Sevick, a former professor of the Treslove and Finkler, copes with the loss of his beloved and struggles to continue with his life. Finkler, Treslove's peer, is a successful pop philosopher, who struggles with his Jewish identity and what a Jew's relationship should be with other Jews and Israel.

Jacobson raises numerous questions about what it means to be Jewish through his use of humor. ("You say you want to be a Jew -- well the first thing you need to know is that Jewish men don't go out without their wives or girlfriends. Unless they are having an affair. Other than another woman's flat there's nowhere for Jewish men to go.") He tackles the subtle use of Jewish humor, language and mannerisms. Many reviews refer to Jacobson as the British Phillip Roth.

The writing is of course excellent. The themes Jacobson attacks and the way he addresses them make this a worthwhile read.

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