BookBrowse Reviews The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

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The Finkler Question

by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
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    Oct 2010, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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The 2010 Booker Prize-winner - funny, furious, unflinching

There are three good reasons to read The Finkler Question:

  • To gain insight into the many views and disparate experiences of Jewish people in the 21st century.
  • To experience the almost perfect blend of humor and seriousness in the writing.
  • To enjoy a rich story about the human condition that includes friendship, love, religion, ambition, loss, aging and dying.

I have enjoyed just about every Booker Prize-winning novel I have read but during the build-up to the final announcement of this year's winner I was not betting on a book that was promoted as a humorous look at the many ways of being Jewish. In fact, having read and reviewed here at BookBrowse two of the books on the shortlist, The Long Song and Room, I was sure one of those would win. As it turned out I have been privileged to read a great novel I would otherwise have passed over.

A word about the title, which is in itself a joke but is not explained until a couple of chapters into the book - Julian Treslove, the wannabe Jew in the story, had never met a Jew until he met Sam Finkler at school. He was so impressed that he decided "Finkler…was a better name for them than Jew…It took away the stigma…(t)he minute you talked about the Finkler Question…you sucked out the toxins." Before I read those lines I was somewhat put off by the title, feeling that I didn't know what I was getting into.

What you will get into should you decide to read The Finkler Question is a look into modern-day anti-Semitism as it exists in Great Britain. British readers will undoubtedly see the book differently than readers in other countries, but any reader who has some awareness of current events regarding the Israeli/Arab conflict will get it. While political questions are part of the story, they play out through the interactions between male and female characters who are so well defined and uniquely human that you wonder at Howard Jacobson's level of wisdom and compassion for people.

I was never sure where the story was heading but I always wanted to find out. The characters became people I felt I had known for years. They alternately made me laugh and worry so that while I sensed each one was ultimately doomed, I was consistently entertained as they stumbled towards their individual ends.

Both British and American critics have heaped praise on The Finkler Question. Reactions from the reading public have been more mixed - at the time of writing, reviews on Amazon in the US and UK average 3 stars with an uncannily equal spread of ratings from 1 to 5. It appears that an interest in, or some knowledge of Jews, anti-Semitism and Israel predisposes readers to a positive experience, but does not guarantee one. On balance, I think it is reasonably safe to say that most adventurous readers of literary fiction who also have a sense of humor will be pleased.


Published in hardcover in the UK in August 2010, and in paperback in the USA in October 2010.

Reviewed by Judy Krueger

This review is from the November 17, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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