The Finkler Question. By Howard Jacobson.
There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when he appears to show a sort of paranoia about being a Jew. Everywhere he goes he’s convinced people are picking on him as one the Children of Israel. It’s kind of funny – and is the same theme used as the thread to link together the characters in The Finkler Question. We join Julian Treslove’s journey into the world of Jewishness through a plate glass window and bloodied nose when he’s assaulted after a night out. A half heard comment by the female mugger “you ju” stirs Howard Jacobson’s mild mannered protagonist into searching for the Jewishness in himself via his Jewish friends – that despite the fact he’s not kosher himself. The friends: Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik provide the other two main characters along with their (now dead) wives Tyler and Malkie and Julian’s estranged wives and two sons.
Essentially the comic novel is a triangular series of thoughts and conversations between Julian and the other characters as he tries to convince himself of his potential Jewishness. It’s set partly in the present and recent past – as well as a number of memory flashbacks that seek to enlighten Julian’s identity crisis. It’s very funny in places with lots of brilliant punchlines and lots of comic insights into Judaism. Every aspect of the religion is turned over from circumcision, the place of rabbis, Jewish mothers and of course Israel and the debate about the conduct of the country founded after the Holocaust. It’s a sort of everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-Jews but were afraid to ask sort of book.
The structure aside the novel is also Howard Jacobson’s way to examine the lives of the trio of men in the story and how they relate to each other. Their friendship, their loves, families, self-examination, their betrayal and kinship. It’s gentle, chuckle inducing and an insight into metro-jewish life.
Published in 2010 the novel won the Man Booker prize that year and is available in paperback and hardback at all good book shops or online.