Sunday, November 25, 2018

Booker Book #45: The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson

Let me clear this up right away: “Finkler,” in this novel, is a character’s code word for Jew. Julian Treslove has two Jewish friends, and falls in love with a Jewish woman. In fact, after being mugged by a woman who says something that he hears as “You Jew,” he begins to think he is Jewish.

The Jewish characters help explore the two sides of the Zionist debate, and it is clear which side Jacobson wants us to be on. Sam Finkler is a pop culture philosopher who joins the Ashamed Jews, who protest the Isreali takeover of Palestine and particularly Gaza. Finkler is an empty, clownish figure, whose wife cheats on him with his friend Julian. Finkler’s wife tells her husband to get off his high horse: now that Isrealis have their own country, “they are now just ordinary bastards, half right, half wrong, like the rest of us.”

The other Jewish characters, Julian’s friend Libor and lover Hephzibah (aka Juno), are more interested in simply being Jewish and celebrating the positive. Hep is working on opening an Anglo-Jewish culture museum, which she insists is NOT another Holocaust museum. I liked Hep more than any of the male characters, by the way.

However, the fact that the author uses Finkler’s name in the title to stand in for Jewish, and not one of the other two characters’ names, seems to indicate that the world sees Jewishness in the negative way represented by Finkler. It’s an interesting story of friendship and love and I learned a lot about anti-Zionism, though I still don’t feel well informed enough to take sides.

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