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The Finkler Question Paperback – October 12, 2010


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Read the first two chapters from The Finkler Question [PDF].

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 2nd printing edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608196119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608196111
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer, and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never lost touch with each other, or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.

Dining together one night at Sevcik's apartment—the two Jewish widowers and the unmarried Gentile, Treslove—the men share a sweetly painful evening, reminiscing on a time before they had loved and lost, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. But as Treslove makes his way home, he is attacked and mugged outside a violin dealer's window. Treslove is convinced the crime was a misdirected act of anti-Semitism, and in its aftermath, his whole sense of self will ineluctably change.

The Finkler Question is a funny, furious, unflinching novel of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and the wisdom and humanity of maturity.




Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Howard Jacobson

Q: Has your life changed (in ways good and bad) since you were awarded the Man Booker last Tuesday?

A: Yes. Apart from having had no sleep and having lost my voice giving interviews around the world, I can think of no bad way it has changed. The good is almost incalculable. In practical terms, The Finkler Question has been riding high in the bestselling charts around the English speaking world and will be translated in countries that have never before shown much interest in my work. But the greater good cannot be measured in lists or numbers. The Man Booker prize feels like a vindication of what I do and have done for a quarter of a century, casting a backward light on my earlier novels, introducing and part explaining them to readers who have not read me before.

I can best describe what I feel as a profound sensation of relief. From what? The usual: disappointment, frustration, bafflement, and the fear of being forever labelled 'an undervalued writer.' Whatever else, they cannot call me undervalued now.

Q: Your talents are largely comic and you've admitted to being ruffled by the lack of respect for comedy among the literary establishment. Do you think most novels lose their footing without a comedic hum? Which novelists do you most admire for their comedy?

A: Comic is the cruelest word. Yes, I aspire to be funny. Jonathan Safran Foer has just said of me to the L.A. Times that "I don't know a funnier writer alive," and I take that to be a huge compliment. But I don't think of myself as a writer of comic novels, for the reason that comic novel suggests lightness or frolicsomeness, a holiday from the serious, and that's not how I see what I do. That one can be funny and deadly serious doesn't need to be argued, but there are those who think they demean the solemn act of reading when they laugh - Rabelais called them the agelasts - whereas, of course, laughter can be as profound an act of the intelligence as any other response.

Ian McEwan once said he hated comic novels: it is like being wrestled to the ground and tickled. I know exactly what he means. But that's not what you get with me. With me it's like being wrestled to the ground and stabbed in the heart.

The other reason I'm not comfortable with the term comic novel is that it's redundant. The novel began in comedy (Rabelais, Cervantes) and continues to owe an obligation to it. A novel that doesn't make you laugh at some level, or that doesn't invigorate in a way we associate with comedy, or whose language isn't alive to play and paradox and contradiction, isn't doing its job.

For me, some of the novelists who do remember their obligations to comedy are Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad (think The Secret Agent), Henry James (funnier than he's often given credit for), Joseph Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera (sometimes), Steve Tesich (I know of no more bitterly funny novel than Karoo), and, if I may return the compliment, Jonathan Safran Foer (Alexander Perchov, the sometime narrator of Everything Is Illuminated, is an inspired comic creation). This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Q: Where do you write? What does the space look and feel like?

A: I write on a tiny open mezzanine floor in the loft apartment I share with my wife in Soho, London. Steel bookshelves rise from the lower floor and in order to access the top shelves I have to risk my life climbing ladders. Light floods in through large windows and when I look out I see the city of London, St Paul's Cathedral, the Gherkin, and many of the great financial institutions. So the space I occupy is airy, and the world I look out upon is vast. This is the best space I have ever worked in, partly because of the natural light, but also because I don't feel locked away. I have only to raise my eyes to see the busy breathing world. Certainly I have never been so prolific, nor looked forward more to going to my desk.




From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, Jacobson's wry, devastating novel examines the complexities of identity and belonging, love, and grief through the lens of contemporary Judaism. Julian Treslove, a former BBC producer who works as a celebrity double, feels out of sync with his longtime friend and sometimes rival Sam Finkler, a popular author of philosophy-themed self-help books and a rabidly anti-Zionist Jewish scholar. The two have reconnected with their elderly professor, Libor Sevcik, following the deaths of Finkler and Libor's wives, leaving Treslove-the bachelor Gentile-even more out of the loop. But after Treslove is mugged-the crime has possible anti-Semitic overtones-he becomes obsessed with what it means to be Jewish, or "a Finkler." Jacobson brilliantly contrasts Treslove's search for a Jewish identity-through food, spurts of research, sex with Jewish women-with Finkler's thorny relationship with his Jewish heritage and fellow Jews. Libor, meanwhile, struggles to find his footing after his wife's death, the intense love he felt for her reminding Treslove of the belonging he so craves. Jacobson's prose is effortless-witty when it needs to be, heartbreaking where it counts-and the Jewish question becomes a metaphor without ever being overdone.

More About the Author

An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and, most recently, the highly acclaimed The Act of Love. Howard Jacobson lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Can't believe it won the Man Booker Prize.
Patashna
I found it ponderous to get through, very unfunny, and filled with characters that are pathetic in a very unsympathetic and really rather unbelievable way.
Ingrid Wong
Don't read this book because you think it's going to make you laugh.
Nancy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

334 of 355 people found the following review helpful By Darryl R. Morris on August 22, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Julian Treslove is a 49 year old Gentile living in present day London whose life has been a series of disappointments: he has movie star good looks but can't seem to sustain a relationship with a woman for more than a few months; he was let go from his production job at the BBC for his overly morbid programs on Radio 3, a station known for its solemnity; and he has fathered two boys, who ridicule and despise him. Even worse, he compares poorly to his friend, rival, and former school classmate Sam Finkler, a pop philosopher, radio and television personality, and author of best selling books such as The Existentialist in the Kitchen and John Duns Scotus and Self Esteem: A Manual for the Menstruating, which have made him wealthy and respected, with a beautiful wife and three successful children.

However, the one thing that Julian desires most of all is to become Jewish, like Sam and their mutual friend and former teacher Libor Sevcik, a Czech whose tell all biographies of Hollywood starlets such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich have earned him fortune and notoriety. Julian refers to Jews as Finklers, after his friend, and frequently wonders how they think, why they are smarter and more successful than him, and how he can understand and be more like them. The three men engage in frequent discussion about Israel, Palestine, and Jewish life in London; understandably, Julian is always an outsider, despite his desire to become one with his friends.

Libor and Sam are contrasts in character. Libor is pro-Israel yet reasonable in his beliefs, whereas Sam is fervently anti-Zionist, and openly supports the Palestinian cause.

At the beginning of the novel, the three men meet for dinner at Sevcik's lavish apartment in Regent's Park.
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92 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Ripple on September 27, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Julian Treslove is a middle aged former BBC radio producer now working as a professional look alike but quite who he looks like varies. Although never married, he has fathered two sons, neither of whom he sees regularly. Dismissed from the BBC for being too morbid on his late night Radio 3 programme (particularly difficult as Radio 3 is known for it's morbid tone and programming), he is given to depressing levels of self-analysis in his small flat that's not quite in Hampstead, London. What Treslove lacks is a sense of belonging and this, he notes his Jewish friends have in spades, particularly his old school friend and rival, the best-selling philosopher and TV personality, Sam Finkler. Treslove, by contrast, always feels on the outside of life.

When the book starts Treslove is again excluded as Finkler and their mutual friend and former teacher, Libor Sevcik, an elderly Jewish Czech, have both been widowed. Although the two Jewish friends have differing political views on Zionism, Treslove sees them united in their Jewishness and their sense of mutual loss. So much does Treslove want to be like his friend Finkler, a term he uses to describe all Jewish people, and for a range of other amusing reasons, when he is attacked on the way home from Libor's flat one night, he is convinced that it is an anti-Semitic attack and that Treslove is, in fact, a Finkler himself and pursues the task of answering `The Finkler Question': what does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st century?

It's not hard to see why this book has caught the attention of this year's Man Booker judges who have short-listed it for the prize.
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106 of 121 people found the following review helpful By knitreader on October 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you love mid-career Woody Allen, you might love this book. You might also love it if you're into angst and want to read many pages about people full of angst, who spend their waking hours worrying about angst, wondering what to do about their angst (or, indeed, whether to do anything at all), asking who's to blame for all that angst, trying (and mostly failing) to find a meaning in angst, even questioning whether their angst is real or whether they're imagining it. All that angst is, of course, finally, about being Jewish (or not). No one, not even Jews, spends 90 percent of his waking hours thinking about being Jewish.

The writing really is very good, and there's genuine humor to be found here. There are also sharp observations of current behavior in some of the peripheral events. However, the characters seem to have been created mostly to represent various "types"--they verge on being stock characters who rarely, if ever, come fully to life. The women are, I think, better drawn, but they exist mostly as foils for the men, who chug through life debating with themselves and occasionally with each other--mostly about angst. Their relationships, even with each other, seem barely skin deep, and I was unable to establish a relationship with any of them.

No one seems to get anywhere--at least nowhere he could explain to himself--and perhaps that's the point. For me, however, it's not a point worth all those pages to make. The only other point seems to be to say that Jews are still whining and kvetching, and that's a point I neither agree with nor approve of.
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