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The Finkler Question ~ Howard Jacobson

November 27, 2010

Genre: Adult Fiction/Philosophy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
320 pages
ISBN: 9781608196111
Source: Bookstore

When My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out, I fell head over heels in love.

I thought it was such an impressive ode to the way families work, or don’t work, through tradition, love, sadness, life and death.

The rumor on the street, at the time, was that Hollywood wanted it to be less, well, Greek. My Big Fat Irish Wedding or My Big Fat Italian Wedding or even My Big Fat Jewish Wedding. Something more mainstream and “get-able”. Greek was obscure.

Apparently, it wasn’t. The thing about the movie that wasn’t obscure was that it was a “fill in the blank”. I grew up around Jewish celebrations, Catholic celebrations, Eastern Orthodox celebrations and, for me, they all seemed to be asking the same questions, living the same “goodnesses”, loving the same family ties. Of course, to say “We’re all alike” is to misunderstand each culture but the true essence of how we live, work, love, play and pass away, inherent in every culture, seems to be at the core of our being, no matter how manifested.

Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, strikes me in the same way. It is, at once a hugely Jewish work in voice and reason but also a rather universal introspection of gain, loss and identity in between.

Julian Treslove, excommunicated BBC reject, finds himself in a Jewish ocean, wearing a Gentile life vest. His two best friends are Jewish and many of his colleagues are, as well. His discovery and study of the “Finkler” Culture (so dubbed by Treslove for his closest confidant and bitter rival, Sam Finkler) through music, humor, kisses, body awareness and other topics, tend toward a satirical “insider cum outsider” view of Judaism in Jacobson’s voice, rather than simply a window into a world unknown.

We also see history, culture, family and faith through the eyes of Sam Finkler, self-help philosophy writer and Libor Sevcik, the boys’ former professor and now friend. Young and old come together and break apart over issues of cultural identity, defining infidelity and upending dominant Western Jewish paradigms.

The idea that struck me so deeply in reading The Finkler Question, is the one that I left the theater, so long ago, with. “This could be about anything”. I just finished Molly Fox’s Birthday which is heavily steeped in Northern Ireland conflict but could, very well have used Jew and Muslim plugged in for Protestant and Catholic.The same thing for many novels on conflict, past and present.

This is, of course, not to make light or fun of any of these long standing bloodbaths. Nor is it to say that each faith worships, plays or eats in the same way. It is only to say that all of these questions of identity, faith commitment, moral fiber and the place we stand with our traditional values, are human, rather than subdivided and attributed to one circle, alone.

The Finkler Question is a beautiful piece of work, a meditation on the way we live and how we forgive, even when we can’t forget.


















8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2010 10:32 am

    What a great review. I recently purchased this one for my eReader, so I am thrilled that you enjoyed it.

  2. November 28, 2010 5:00 am

    I definitely can’t wait to read this book, sounds great

  3. November 28, 2010 8:27 pm

    I loved this review. Ever since this book won the prize, I have been intrigued by it, and know I am going to read it. It sounds like it’s has a great story with universal themes. I will have to let you know what I think of it when I am done!

    • December 4, 2010 8:12 am

      Oh, please do! It’s a pretty funny book if you like satire but it’s also deep and serious in a pleasingly well-written way.

  4. December 4, 2010 12:22 am

    I’ve been playing musical chairs with this year’s Booker titles, poking at a few but cannot zero into any one of them. Room, which I have put down for the moment, is not as engaging as I have anticipated. I have been Peter Carey-ed out after ” Theft “. I do have hope for ” The Finkler Question ” — until I see that you make a connection to ” Molly Fox’s Birthday “, a favorite read this year!

    • December 4, 2010 8:11 am

      I think you’ll really like The Finkler Question. It’s obviously pretty different than Molly Fox but it has quite a few of the same ties in friendship, philosophy and global/regional conflict. It’s a little bit sillier (in a good way) and satirical but I those factors add to it. Let me know what you think of it if you do decide to pick it up!


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