After scanning all those slides from the UK last week, it was quite fitting that I just finished The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury, 2010) by Howard Jacobson.
Not only did The Finkler Question win the 2010 Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards, but it also digs deep into the question of what it means to be Jewish. Reform, Orthodox, converted, secular, ashamed, and wannabe. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in many places, and weepy-eyed tragic in others.
The story centers around the friendship of three men: two middle aged British men and one elderly Czech man who taught these youngsters when they were in school. Julian Treslove is a man of few ambitions and many ex-girlfriends. He fathered two children out of wedlock and has a hard time connecting with these grown sons. Sam Finkler is his school friend/rival/idol. And Libor Sevcik is their former teacher and Czech refugee, former Hollywood producer, and longtime London resident.
After Sam’s and Libor’s wives die within a short time of one another, the three friends meet frequently and inevitably fall into heated debates over the fate of Israel. Julian is the non-Jew of the trio and forever feels left out. So he convinces himself that he’s of Jewish stock, too, and goes so far to learn Yiddish, Jewish prayers, and customs.
I’ve been Jewish all my life, but know very little about Jews in the UK. Jacobson introduces the reader to this small community and shows how they differ from their brethren in the US.
The Finkler Question is one of the best books I’ve read all year.