26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Jonah Jacobstein, ambitious, thirty-two years old, a lawyer on the fast track to becoming a partner at Cunningham Wolf, a prestigious Manhattan law firm has, for lack of a better term, AN EVENT.
Jonah's event is preceded by a chance conversation with a total stranger, a Hasidic Jew, as he and Jonah duck out of the rain in the subway station. The Hasid has a solid grasp of the story of Jonah's namesake and he says, "Jonah was a man of the world, too, just like you. Going about his business, making deals. Then one day "HaShem" came to him and said, `Jonah, go to the corrupt city . . . and tell them that while they have gold [and] finery . . . their soul is naked."
Jonah flees from the Hasid and goes about "the ordinariness" of his life, which in Jonah's case is billing his firm an average 3,000 hours a year (working 9.5 hours a day, 365 days a year), dating both of his girlfriends (one of whom he is about to sign a lease with), and attending parties.
At one of these parties, he sees a photograph of a woman named Judith, excuses himself to the bathroom and there experiences an event (a vision) of Biblical proportions which ends with him glimpsing "I AM JONAH" in the Hebrew alphabet against an empty white blankness, "oceanic in depth."
Jonah flees down the stairs, and in the stairwell he happens upon two men in an embrace that calls up the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel.
Back in the safety of his apartment, Jonah contemplates what just happened: seizure, exhaustion, bad weed, schizophrenia, insanity?
Jonah tries to cling to the ordinariness of his life; tries valiantly to escape his destiny, even as his ordinary life unravels. He flees to Amsterdam, calling it "a vacation," and stays on a houseboat (Jonah in the belly of the whale) with his friend Max who picks up women and propounds the philosophy of Kant. Aboard the houseboat, Jonah has a recurring dream about the Hasid. The Hasid has followed him, the Hasid is chasing him, the Hasid is "doing a leg-kicking Russian folk dance, a bottle balanced on his head." Jonah cannot escape the Hasid! Jonah and Max contemplate the great questions.
And then . . .
You'll have to read it to find out whether Jonah escapes or fulfills his destiny.
I enjoyed this novel, was entertained, found it thought-provoking; at times humorous, ironic. With my smattering of Biblical knowledge, I recognized some of the parallels and imagery that author, Joshua Feldman used as a framework; for instance, the Biblical Judith cut off the head of a general. Readers better versed in the Bible will no doubt make more connections. However, this well-written, towering tale stands on its own as a modern-day novel and will appeal to readers who enjoy great fiction even if they have no knowledge of Biblical characters and events.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This is a tale which is a biblical allegory and in the end demonstrates there is no escaping what fate or luck or God has intended for you. We see the lives of several people, mainly Jonah a successful up and coming New York lawyer and then there is Judith an intelligent, academically driven young lady. Both of them are Jewish and not particularity involved in their religious faith.
Life takes a turn when Jonah starts having disturbing visions affecting his life and future. Judith has her share of tragedy. There is such minute detail on her life and background that in many ways; she becomes the more interesting character.
Modern life and its pitfalls are encountered. We are swept into existence of constant electronic attachment to i phones and high powered careers. There is a background aura that is disapproving and disparaging of the modern grasping of status and achievement.
In numerous respects it is almost impossible to really like any of the characters. Their faults and missteps at times seem senseless. Jonah's visions begin after a night filled with an inordinate amount of drinking different types of alcohol and he seems to exist in a haze after that point.
The writing and descriptions are well done, including that an essential part of being a New Yorker is the ability to ignore those around you, which Jonah does not do when he encounters a Hasidic Jew on the subway which is the beginning of his allegorical encounter.
Observations on behavior, thoughts and mindsets are well done; but there is a disconnect with all of the characters where one sees no real purpose in their actions and travels. The focus and point of what they desire and want to accomplish is muddled and becomes frustrating for the reader.
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The Book of Jonah is the story of a young Jewish man living the so-called “good life” in New York City. A studious man his entire young life in line for partnership in a prestigious law firm, Jonah has been willing to work very hard for years to reach his goal. But, what does the goal of partner offer him that he doesn’t already have? Good food, booze, grass, two girlfriends, and a place to sleep in the Big Apple – he already has these maintainers of daily life. Now, as his final test of potential club membership in his firm, he is asked to support the efforts of senior partners to protect a corporate client that has committed multi-million dollar patent theft. Jonah thinks why not, this immoral activity will lead to the peace of mind payoff for all his efforts at success.
Similar to the Biblical description of Jonah, God steps in at a booze and drug fueled party and shocks him in the bathroom with a revelation of the destruction of New York City. It is such stunning negative information that Jonah rejects it and refuses to play the role of warning the people of the world. He tries to run away by ratting out his own firm’s dirty deeds. Jonah is swallowed by the Millennium whale, finding himself fired and footloose with a hefty severance package. Leaving New York aimlessly, Jonah finds himself stoned every day in Amsterdam, the belly of the whale. Is this the fate of the man “chosen by God?” Fate has something in store for Jonah in the form of a chance meeting in Amsterdam with a kindred spirit. But, true to his character, Jonah rejects her too – at first.
In the Bible, Jonah reluctantly accepts his role as prophet. Does the Millennium Jonah make good with God through his relationship with his Jewish kindred spirit? The reader will find the answer in the intelligent but rather flat prose of Mr. Feldman in his first novel. I predict that the author will find his way and breath a bit more life into his characters in future novels.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2014
This book is so well written and so beautifully pieced together, it breaks my heart.
Keep it coming, Josh Feldman. You are a storyteller among storytellers.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
“The Book of Jonah,” by debut author Joshua Max Feldman, is not a religious novel. This is a smart, splendid, literary novel that can be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone, of any faith, or without faith. The novel is an odd hybrid: part dark romantic comedy, part subtle satire, and part modern-day gloss on an ancient Biblical morality tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was very clever and intellectually satisfying…definitely unique and in a class of its own.
In the Biblical “Book of Jonah,” God is angry at the sins of the people of Nineveh. He appears to Jonah in a vision and directs him to go to Nineveh and tell the people that they must repent or He will destroy the city. Jonah’s first reaction is to flee from the responsibility that God has demanded of him. He flees to the sea. This leads to a huge storm and a whale…and, well, if you don’t know the rest of the details, it’s best if you refresh your memory or look up a summary of the details online before you begin reading this version.
Don’t expect the novel to adhere closely to the ancient text. This is wholly and delightfully different, but the scaffolding of the Biblical tale is there and easy to discern. For example, in the Biblical version Jonah spends three days inside the belly of a whale repenting his sin of fleeing from God’s will; in the modern version, Jonah spends a month living on a houseboat in Amsterdam…and he does this after his entire life falls apart in a few days through a rapid-fire series of ruinous events (akin to the storm at sea). And how do we know for sure that this part of the book coincides with the belly of the whale days? Easy. It’s because the modern version has chapter headings that correspond to that part of the Biblical text. You don’t have to be a deconstruction genius to figure it out. But part of the intellectual joy comes from figuring out what is not obvious…what’s in the small details.
There’s no doubt that Feldman has written a novel blatantly critical of today’s big-city world culture. New York and its inhabitants are the equivalent of ancient Nineveh. He leaves readers with a lot to think about. Has our global, contemporary world of high finance, law, and real estate development become reprehensible and morally bankrupt? Are some of our brightest young minds—those promising elite hypereducated overachievers starting up the ladders of top-notch careers in high finance, banking, law, and real-estate development—being seduced by greed and a narcissistic, self-indulgent culture to accept this morally flawed civilization as status quo? As morally acceptable? As the necessary price we must pay to reap the rewards of an every more complex civilization?
The book contains a great deal that lovingly focuses on the American Jewish culture experience. I found the two main characters—Jonah Daniel Jacobstein and Judith Klein Bulbrook—humorous, warmheartedly stereotypical, but wholly believable. I was fascinated to find out what was happening to them and curious to understand the odd choices they made in their lives. If I have one significant criticism about the book and these characters, it is that I felt like a spectator. I witnessed and intellectually understood the character’s emotional pain but I did not feel it. There was an odd, intellectual detachment from the characters and the plot.
Feldman’s modern-day “Book of Jonah” succeeds first and foremost because it is a delightful story. But it also succeeds because it engages questions worth asking, in particular: what does it mean to be good and how are we to achieve it?
This book will probably not have a wide appeal, but to those of you who may be intrigued by what I’ve said in this review, please do not hesitate to read it. You will probably enjoy it a great deal, as I did.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
Jonah Jacobstein is a successful lawyer, living the good life in New York. After running into an Hasidic Jew who speaks to him about the biblical Jonah, he starts to have visions. As he tumbles farther and farther into his visions, Jonah loses everything in a search for something far outside himself.
In all honesty, I struggled with this novel. It seemed a little slow, and I had a hard time connecting with Jonah at first. The premise was good, and it was as much humorous as it was lacking in momentum. When the storyline drawing the two main characters finally came into play, everything picked up and felt "right". I felt as if I held my breath until these two strangers finally got together. I wish we had seen more of their development earlier in the book.
Having said all that, my "aha" moment for the book was buried deep into page 321, where Mr. Feldman summed up the entire book in a prophetic way: "In the end, it wasn’t God or the visions or the Hasid you couldn’t escape. It was yourself." And that, in a nutshell, is the story of Jonah.
*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A modern retelling of the Old Testament's book of Jonah, as well as a second text, that of the widow Judith who decapitated the Assyrian General Holofernes, are the thrust of Max Feldman's story of a young Jewish corporate lawyer climbing to the top of the ladder with an empty soul and a divided heart. Jonah Jacobstein has two beautiful girlfriends devoted to him, and a law firm ready to hand him a meteoric rise to success by doing their dirty work. Jacob is ready to choose one woman and leap into eminent success, when a Hasidic Jew on a subway asks him deep religious and provocative questions about his chosen life. The best Jonah can answer is "I feel guilty on Yom Kippur."
Jonah dismisses the man from his consciousness, until he begins to have frightening and disturbing biblical vision at a party. Psychically, it is a vision he can't escape. The story follows Jacob as he responds to this "divine intervention" in his own stumbling ways, until the epic climax that mirrors the force of his faith.
I was fastened to the first part of the novel, as Jonah is torn between the two girlfriends and driven by success. The characterization seemed organic and I related to his conflicts. However, as the book moved ever toward its pantheon of biblical twists, and the allegories intensified, it became touched with melodrama and heavy-handed narrative. Jonah became a bit lost to me, and I sensed self-consciousness as the author morphed his very human character into a contemporary Old Testament archetype. Jonah's connection with Judith, which was supposed to compel us, felt inorganic and flat. The middle of the book was filled with long-winded philosophizing, although, admittedly, I enjoyed some of the gems of thought out of context, but not so much as part of the whole.
I suspect that Feldman was appealing to both the faithful and the faithless, attempting to blur the lines of secular and religious; however, perhaps I am too much a secular student of life to appreciate the message of the book. The author writes well, but not consistently. This is his debut effort, and I was interested enough to look forward to his next book, if it isn't another biblical allegory.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I wasn't quite sure what to make of this book when I ordered it through the Vine program, but it looked intriguing and since it was free I decided I'd take a shot. As it turned out, while the story is indeed unusual, it is quite entertaining and thought provoking. In short, the main character, Jonah, is a Wall Street hot shot who is riding high with cash but pretty low in terms of his relationships and the deeper substance of life. He has two girl friends, one of whom knows about the other and one who doesn't, several broken family relationships and a general feeling of malaise. Then, without any warning, he has a sort of vision -- or hallucination -- or inspiration. It's up to the reader to decide.
Somehow, through this brain break (or whatever we call it), Jonah comes to believe that he is being called to live differently, or to do something. But he doesn't know what. He just knows that he can't continue to live the way he has been living. The conundrum is that, while he wants to change, and at times thinks he has, he also doesn't want to change. He tries different types of behavior to see if one way of living seems better than another, but he keeps running into difficulties no matter what he does. He thinks, for instance, that he should stop lying to people and be honest, regardless of the situation. In that spirit he tells his cousin that he knows her boyfriend is gay. Truth telling doesn't work out very well for him in this instance, as the guy and his cousin ally against him and Jonah ends up being though a liar by their mutual friends.
Then there is Judith, a smart young woman who has become a perennial student, studying for one degree or fellowship after another, trying to forget the pivot point of her life -- that her parents died on the plane from Boston on 9-11. And they would not have been on that plane had they not made a side trip to come and visit her at university. There is a strong sense of fate in Judith's story, more so than in Jonah's, but the feelings Judith evokes in the reader (at least this one) are similar to those that the Jonah character elicits. Judith and Jonah meet and affect one another, yet in the end go their separate ways, with the reader not seeing much of a point in their connection. But Judith is an interesting character and adds to the value of the novel.
Throughout this well-written story, there are multiple points at which I paused to consider what was "really" happening. The whole book challenges readers to ponder the nature of reality and who defines it as such. Its one weak spot is its ending, at least for me. The novel never seems to reach a conclusion, and perhaps that's the point. Maybe author Joshua Max Feldman is trying to show us that reality is a matter of perception, and that a person's deepest beliefs about the nature of God and the universe are, at best, formed out of shots in the dark. I am reminded of a verse in Ecclesiastes, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the learned, nor favor to the skilful: but time and chance in all."
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2014
Note: May contain spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Looking back, there isn’t a single adjective one could use to describe Joshua Max Feldman’s debut novel, The Book of Jonah. At times, the tale being told is entertaining, engaging, and suspenseful. However, there are other instances where the writing comes off as boring, uninspired, and cliched (particularly in the narrative’s closing moments). It is this aspect alone that makes The Book of Jonah such a unique experience. As I read those final sentences, I felt both relieved and irritated, happy and annoyed. Feldman’s distinct imagery and character development make The Book of Jonah extremely worthwhile, but when the novel’s final moments began to feel more like religious propaganda than a proper conclusion, it spoiled the fond memories I had getting to that point.
The Book of Jonah acts as a modern day retelling of the Book of Jonah, a tale found in the Hebrew Bible. However, those unfamiliar with the original source material, like myself, will have no trouble understanding the events that take place. With that said, those more knowledgeable will have the luxury of making comparisons between the two stories. The narrative is split between two individuals: the titular Jonah, a successful lawyer with a troubled love-life, and Judith, a strong academic with a troubled past. The numerous events that transpire in their separate lives allow them to cross paths in Amsterdam, which leaves both individuals desperate to piece together their fragmented lives.
Understandably, the story’s main focus is Jonah, but Judith’s role in the story’s progression is easily noticeable. Upon meeting Jonah for the first time, the reader understands him as a selfish person obsessed with the more trivial aspects of life; his iPhone, drinking, sex, etc. Judith, on the other hand, is equally obsessive prior to a fatal event that alters her understanding of what’s important. In contrast to Jonah, the reader follows Judith from adolescence to adulthood, which allows us to see how her obsession with school begins to wane over time. The individuals they eventually become are far different from those we were introduced to, which is why I found Feldman’s character development absolutely fascinating.
Furthermore, Feldman’s pacing is a notable accomplishment, as well. Although the reader is constantly shifting from Jonah to Judith, the story continues to advance at a natural pace for the entire 300+ pages. The story never felt rushed or overly slow, and I was amazed at how well Feldman managed to draw me in regardless of which character I was reading about at a particular time. In fact, the author had this odd habit of bringing you to the edge of your seat, only to switch characters and leave you aching for more. This form of storytelling has always intrigued me, and it reminded me of my time with J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.
Unfortunately, The Book of Jonah does have one gaping flaw, and that would be the train wreck that is the story’s conclusion. All of the positive aspects of the novel up to that point were thrown out the window, and in their place was generic storytelling, an oddly out-of-place ending, and some character changes that felt a little too drastic. Jonah and Judith no longer operate the way that they used to, and the reader is expected to accept this sudden change that occurred over the course of a few pages. Not only were these changes unsatisfying, but they left a bad taste in my mouth as well, and the same can be said about the general ending of the narrative.
My only other minor complaint would be the inconsistency of Feldman’s writing. His writing isn’t bad per se, but there is no denying that this is his first published novel. There was a severe lack of identity, and Feldman obviously adopted many different writing styles that didn’t necessarily work well together. The longer you read, the easier it is to adjust, but once you stop, it can be difficult to bring yourself around again the following day. This isn’t a huge issue, and it is something that will diminish with time and experience, but it is noticeable.
Overall Score: 7/10 - As a literary debut, Joshua Max Feldman’s The Book of Jonah excels almost as often as it fails. His imagination is strong, his characters are vibrant, and the sense of development is clear and enjoyable, but this is obviously the work of someone who has yet to perfect his craft. Even now, days after finishing the book and already deep into my next novel, I still find myself reflecting on Judith, Jonah, their world, and the characters that surrounded them. Its story is as memorable as it is frustrating, and it’s one I recommend despite its flaws.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
Full of quick insights, satire, and a search for earnest meaning, The Book of Jonah gives us the first glimpse of a talented new author. Can't wait to see what he does next.