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The Finkler Question

The Finkler Question Book Cover

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I had no clue what I was signing up for when I began reading this. The author began by making a very big deal about the pain of being a Jew in the modern world and ended the book with an impassioned plea to see Jews for what they really are, half right and half wronged, like the rest of us. I appreciate that unambiguously. Nobody should be singled out for persecution, I agree. What I don’t appreciate is being bombarded with the words ‘Jew’, ‘Ju’, ‘Julian’ with freakish consistency on every page. Now, mind you, this isn’t because I’m an anti-Semite. Because I’m not. In my culture, anti-Semitism is merely something other people do to other people, or nothing at all. We have other people to hate. Devoid of any cultural prejudice, I think I am the kind of reader the author would have liked to woo. Did he succeed?

He did succeed in convincing me that anti-Semitism, like all other prejudices, is an irrational phenomenon, a bandwagon for haters. The word it seems has a ring to it, the kind of ring that makes people want to be an anti-Semite, a secret dirty ring, something like

‘Hey man you an anti-Semite?’

‘Yeah I just started. Isn’t it empowering? It helped me focus my dislike for humanity into a hatred for the Jews. I feel so much better already. Here, let me show you the swastika I had to tattoo on my ass as part of the initiation.’

‘Hoo Haa! Let’s go maim some money-grubbing, manipulative, motherfucking Jews after that!’

Through Julian Treslove, the neurotic protagonist whose life is a farce, the author tries to explore the essential quality of Jewishness, to find out what separates them from the rest as a culture. Treslove, crazy cat that he is, wants to learn the knack of thinking Jewishly. He essentially wants to be a Jew because he finds their ease with the ways of the world in contrast to his own chronic sentimentality and unease.

His best friend, Sam Finkler is an ambitious, self-centred Jew who hates being stereotyped as a Jew even though he fits the bill better than any one. In fact, he is ashamed of being a Jew as is evident by the ludicrous association of ASHamed Jews that he is part of. Except that it’s not really shame. Nobody parades around shame since normally, it’s too shameful a matter to do that. In Sam Finkler’s case, it’s more like pomposity. Julian decides to call all Jews Finklers since that’s how he’s got to know them. Hence, The Finkler Question. Yay! Though I have a sneaking suspicion he did that just to reduce the Jew word count.

I found the narrative similar to The God Of Small Things, where the plot revolves in time and space around a single event of life-changing proportions. I just hope the Booker Prize isn’t going formulaic. The event in this case is also a farce, like much of Julian’s life, a life-changing farce. A woman accosts him, proceeds to slam his face into a glass window, relieves him of all his valuables before he can react and whispers in his ear “You Jew”. LOL. After this, he goes down a spiral of rabbis and Bar Mitzvahs and other weird Jewish names. He’s overwhelmed by all the Jewishness, us even more so. He meets a Jewish woman next and promptly begins to obsesses about his uncircumcised penis, reads ancient Jewish religious texts to get a deeper understanding of being Jewish and of having an uncircumcised penis. Whoa. Give me a break.

The book is funny in places but I maintain that the best part about it is that it’s crystal clear about what it propounds. There is no ambiguity of subject matter, no secret center which the reader finds himself looking for. If someone asks me what this book was about, I now have the shortest answer I’ve ever had for this question. Jews. Here, let me say it a few more times, I think the author would appreciate it. Jews. Jews. Jews. Everything else is there just for it to not seem like that. Talking about being Jewish has to be the most Jewish trait of all, no Mr. Jacobson?