Category: Howard Jacobson

book review – The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

“How do you go on living knowing that you will never again – not ever, ever – see the person you have loved? How do you survive a single hour, a single minute, a single second of that knowledge? How do you hold yourself together?”

In many respects this is a love story. Not just for women that the main characters have loved and lost but for an idea, a hope, that after the terror of the holocaust the Jews were no longer going to be victims of anti-semitism and the horrors inflicted on them in the past.

But this is also a book asking some pretty weighty questions about what it means to be Jewish. Both sides of the for and against Zionism debate are covered and because of his ability to craft political questions with a great deal of humour Jacobson manages to pull it off.

What does it mean to be a Jew? For Julian Treslove, a failed BBC radio producer, failed father and failed lover it means a lot because his two best friends are Jewish. But as he seems to be intent on embracing Juadism his friends Libor and Sam Finkler are struggling to cope with what it means to be a Jew in the current age.

Things start with the three friends meeting after one of them, Libor, has suffered a recent bereavmenent after a marriage after a long marriage and Finkler has also lost his wife. But one was faithful and the other was not. Both have regrets but find a refuge in being and arguing about what it means to be a Jew. Treslove is a bystander as Sam and Libor argue about the rights and wrongs of Israel and he would have possibly have stayed on the sidelines until one night he is attacked when walking home and his attacker calls him a Jew.

His search for a justification in the attack and a growing envy and obsession with Judaism brings him into a relationship with a Jewish woman who is also setting up a cultural centre. As she finds the centre the target of attacks Treslove immerses himself in discovering the amount of hatred and antisemitism out there.

Just as Libor struggles to live a life alone, Finkler struggles to contemplate his guilt for infidelity and the prospect of growind old alone Treslove cannot cope with what it means to be a Jew.

His failure, which he is set up for at the very start, raises questions not just of understanding between different communities but what impact the amount of hate has one anyone who sits down long enough to compile a list and really think about it.

Thoughts at the halfway point of The Finkler Question

There are some moments when this brings a smile to the face but there are some big issues that Jacobson is dealing with here and laughter is a helpful alternative to the full force of the political and religious subjects he tackles.

Three friends, two Jewish and one not, two widowed and one not, spend their time together discussing Israel, Zionism and what it means to be Jewish. It makes the non-Jew among them rather envious and in some senses this is a story of how he starts to become attracted to a religion and way of life just as those around him born into it are falling out of love with it.

But there is also a theme here about friendship and rivalry and it should be interesting to see how that develops and how the relationships change in the second half.

A review will come soon…