Dan Sandman

35: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

In Books, Fiction on 30/08/2013 at 12:00 pm

The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonMy father is of Lithuanian Jewish decent and my mother is of Anglo-Saxon decent. I would therefore call myself ‘half-Jewish’ – although technically, because my mother is a gentile, I am not Jewish at all. Still, my upbringing has led me to have an interest in Judaism and particularly British Jewish culture. Indeed, last week, I visited The Jewish Museum in Camden Town with my parents for the second time. Unsurprisingly, the museum shop contained several Howard Jacobson books.

Jacobson is well known for creating witty fiction based around the problems of British Jewish characters. He lives in an historic part of London called Hampstead, where some of The Finkler Question takes place. Many famous names, such as John Keats, George Orwell and Sigmund Freud, have worked in Hampstead over the years. The hardback I am reviewing, given to me by mother, was bought in a Hampstead charity shop for £2.50. It has about 300 pages.

The story revolves around three male characters. Julian Treslove and Sam Finkler are old friends, the elderly Libor Sevcik is their former teacher. All three men, unable to come to terms with the past, adopt dramatic approaches to the future with humorous consequences. The insecure Treslove, resentful against his former employers the BBC and his own children, decides that adopting Jewish culturally practice will solve his problems. Well known intellectual Finkler leads an anti-Zionist group of Jews who are ashamed of Israel’s political action. Libor, unable to deal with the death of his much beloved wife, is spiralling down into a deep depression.

I enjoyed this book because it makes fun of people’s foibles in a laugh out loud manner. The actaul dilemmas of the characters – identity crisis, politics, mourning – are very serious but when treated with Jacobson’s wit, become trivially amusing. Life is a tragic comedy where suffering can be dealt with by making a joke about it. The past is a greatly misunderstood fabric weaved of a thousand different stitches. It is the writer, the painter, the composer whose role is examine this rich material.



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