Book Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

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Cross-posted from Goodreads:

I was excited about this book for a very long time. 10 years to be precise. I bought it pretty much the day it won the Booker Prize. But for one reason or another, I couldn’t start it all these years. Until 20 days ago. Did it turn out worth the wait? Most certainly not.

While I purchased the book when I was not aware of Goodreads, I started reading it with an active Goodreads profile. So I knew the risks: a rating of 2.79 was never encouraging. I read it anyway, only to end up confirming some common negative reviews floating around.

To be fair, the book has its moment. The subject, for one, has noble connotations. The author has tried – in this own whackily funny style – hard to bring to the notice of non-Jews the physical and (especially) mental harm Jews have to face through both conscious and unconscious anti-Semitism. The author has his mastery of words all right: some difficult to imagine scenes described so well and effortlessly. The goods end there, though.

The over-arching problem is, Jews are the only thing the book talks about. Every page literally has at least one reference to Jews (or “Finklers”, as the protagonist calls them). The protagonist – a middle-aged half-wit Brit with no ambition – doesn’t come across as reliable with his thoughts. Although he attaches himself with Judaism sympathetically, he’s ever confused which makes it even difficult to feel the same way as he does. Plus, the author contrives to be funny with sentences that add no humor. Or perhaps the problem is my own lack of comprehension of British humor in general (P.G. Wodehouse is an exception).

Read this if you want some modern for-against arguments around Jews, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine, and Zionism. Skip it, otherwise.

P.S. This is my first 2-star review!

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