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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the finkler questions, 12 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
the first review question is: how might a non-jewish readership respond to this book? if i could have, i would have given it 5 jewish stars - but quite possibly for the general readership it could prove inaccessible or even unutterably boring? having said that i found it cunningly conceived and engagingly written, and carrying much of the 'universal through the particular' - only there is so much 'yiddishkeit' to traverse in order to reach that core, that some readers might be put off midway.

and what is the finkler question? once we learn that 'finkler' here is a device for referring to jews, the first of many wordy jokes is cracked. but having introduced 'the jewish question', other finkler questions follow. what is a jew? what comprises 'jewishness'? julian treslove, a fairly hapless englishman, happens to have a couple of jewish friends - an old school chum and an ex-school teacher of both of them. this trio and their dynamic are the central carriage of the book. close as they are, treslove senses something between the other two that excludes him. fathoming just what this is impinges on him progressively as the tale unfolds. he observes the dark features of melancholy, brooding, debating and pathos which characterise the jews, and we observe that for him these are part of the explanation. but it is precisely because treslove himself embodies these characteristics that he gravitates towards the finklers, and finds a resonance among them. perhaps only a doleful character like treslove could have filled this role of such a sympathetic observer of this particular stratum of jews. nevertheless, notwithstanding his learning a variety of yiddish words (alas for some, no glossary provided), taking up with a jewish woman, and investigating the pros and cons of circumcision, to the end he remains essentially peripheral to the finkler circle.

this is a book by a rather mature jacobson. still indulging mischievously in a good laugh, but as he has said of this book: 'it's not a comic book; it's the sort of humour where if you didn't laugh you would cry.' jacobson grinds no particular axe - he treats his chosen material with a certain detached even-handedness. he is by turns both sympathetic and scathing towards his characters. there is much ruminating on death here, on the poignancy of all human life, and the book ends with the unending mournfulness of loss.

there could be no contemporary finkler question without inclusion of the israel question. and just about every standpoint occupied by jews on the spectrum of this issue gets a look-in; as with the rest of the book, with a mixture of seriousness as well as absurdity and ridicule.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Sep 2011 13:20:07 BDT
Hi there - would you like to put a question to Howard Jacobson about his book The Finkler Question? BBC World Book Club on the World Service is interviewing him on 23rd September and would love to hear from you. If you could email me at worldbookclub@bbc.co.uk as soon as you can with your question about the book (anything - doesn't have to be particularly clever!), we can either arrange for you to talk to Howard Jacobson himself, or have our presenter put your question to him for you. Then you get to hear your question on BBC World Service Radio. The programme will air on 5th May 2012 on the BBC World Service. Please do get in touch.

Best wishes,
BBC World Book Club
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