The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

finkler questionREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

A satirical novel where three British men reflect on what it means to be Jewish.

☁ “Julian Treslove is a professional lookalike, despite not looking like anyone in particular. His friend Sam Finkler is a philosopher, writer and television personality. Their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, is a Czechoslovakian more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

One evening they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment, reminiscing about their lives and loves, but also what it means to be Jewish. Julian is a recent convert and struggling with his new found identity. He considers Sam a total representation of Jewishness and so uses his surname to stand in for the word Jew, hence the book’s title.

On his way home, Julian hesitates outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country and is attacked. He becomes obsessed with the belief that his female attacker may have called him Jewish. This sets off a chain of events where the characters being to analyse their own Jewish identities but also how others interpret them, too.

In Julian, Jacobsen has created a protagonist desperate for a sense of belonging and acceptance. The book questions what it means to be Jewish in an inherently anti-Semitic world through a series of events which are humorous, satirical but also deeply serious. There is a lightness to the conflicting and contradictory views offered, which avoids dragging the story down into woefulness.

That’s good, Julian. Getting touchy is a good sign. You can’t be Jewish if you can’t do touchy.

Suzy and Rachel agreed there was a nice level of humour and moral, a touch of reality and loveable characters in The Finkler Question. It was a satisfying read with outstanding prose and language. We enjoyed and respected it, but we didn’t find it overly exciting or stimulating. Perhaps because we are quite removed from the life which contemporary British Jews live, and therefore do not have the level of understanding that other readers may do about how Jewishness is integrated and regarded by the British population. There was a level of education here for us, for which we both were grateful, but as a read for a read’s sake, for enjoyment and to wile away a lazy Sunday afternoon in Aotearoa, it wouldn’t be our first pick.

Published 2011
384 pages

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