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"The Finkler Question" by Howard Jacobson

Creato il 07 ottobre 2011 da Memole

Threemen, Libor Sevcik, Sam Finkler and Julian Treslove, are the main characters in this novel, and all of them are widowers. Well, apart from Treslove, who never had a wife but grievesthe lack of one altogether. Libor, a ninety-year-oldCzech-born retired professor with Hollywood connections, is mourninghis beloved wife Malkie, while Julian Treslove is envious of hislong-time friend Sam Finkler for several reasons, one of them beingthat he is Jewish (and therefore, according to him, he is moreintelligent, has the best women and tells the best jokes).
"The Finkler Question" is a brilliant book, very humorous and entertaining, but alsothought-provoking and ultimately sad. As amatter of fact, Ron Charles of “The Washington Post” used adjectives like 'ruminative' and 'broody' to describe it. How can abook be both funny and gloomy? Well, I think this is one of thewonders of Jacobson's writing. “The Finkler Question” tacklestopics like mourning one's family and, of course, identity. The wholebook can be read as a compendium (albeit a crooked one) on Jewishnessin England. I remember that a few months ago I read an article complaining about this. Incidentally, I think the author of the article has not grasped the real meaning of the book, to the point of wondering if he has finished the novel. “The Finkler Question” - which in factreads as “The Jewish Question” (Finklers is in fact the wayJulian Treslove calls Jewish people in general) – reflects on howJewish people are perceived by non-Jewish people. It elaborates onstereotypes and anti-Semitism in a way that is never obvious. Until here, we all agree. What the author of that article failed to see, in my opinion, is that it is slowlyrevealed by the end of the book that it is Treslove's excessive loveand respect for 'Finklers' that hides something disturbing anddisquieting. I think that this can be read as a lesson, not only forthose who hide their prejudice behind excessive admiration, butfor everyone. In other words, Jacobson's book is a lecture on what it means to be human: to grieve, to love and to hate. We perceive Jewishness through the lenses of Julian Treslove, who for as much as he would hate to hear it, has a lot of preconceptions.  
Thebook vaguely reminds me of Zadie Smith's “The Autograph Man”, butit's not only because of the Jewish connection. They're both humorousbooks and they are both sprinkled with references to moviestars such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. “The Finkler Question” isnonetheless 'obsessed' with Jewishness as much as its protagonist is.Towards the end of the book it was annoying to read the word 'Jew' inevery page, as it must have been annoying for Finkler's friends tohear Treslove babbling about Jewishness all the time.
HowardJacobson got hold of the Booker Prize with this book. His style isprecise and his novel is pleasant to read, while hispuns and remarks are often witty and never weak ('D'Jew know Jewno' already feels like a classic). In spite of this, there wassomething missing: maybe more narrative complexity, if that issomething desirable in a book. Too often the plot was put aside forendless disquisitions on Zionism that end up being tedious andabstruse, unless you are an expert on the subject. I appreciated the language in which the novel was written, though: the impeccable choice of words and the genius behind some of the musings and reflections. There is a passage about philosophy that I must report here because it feels so true for me (but if you don't care for such curiosities consider the review finished without this): 
Every few years Treslove decided it was time he tried philosophy again. Rather than start at the beginning with Socrates or jump straight into epistemology, he would go out and buy what promised to be a clear introduction to the subject - by someone like Roger Scruton or Bryan Magee, though not, for obvious reasons, by Sam Finkler. These attempts at self-education always worked well at first. The subject wasn't after all difficult. He could follow it easily. But then, at more or less the same moment, he would encounter a concept or a line of reasoning he couldn't follow no matter how many hours he spent trying to decipher it. A phrase such as 'the idea derived from evolution that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis' for example, not impossibly intricate in itself but somehow resistant to effort, as though it triggered something obdurate and even delinquent in his mind. Or hte promise to look at an argument from three points of view, each of which had five salient features, the first of which had four distinguishable aspects. It was like discovering that a supposedly sane person with whom one had been enjoying a pefeclty normal conversation was in fact quite mad. Or, if not mad, sadistic. (p. 32-33)

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