Julian Treslove is an unspectacular television producer of arts programs and a celebrity impersonator, with two failed marriages behind him and two distant, resentful sons. A gentile convinced that a Jewish identity would offer asylum from his identity crisis, Treslove is acutely envious of his old school friend Sam Finkler, now a highly successful author of glib pop-philosophy best sellers with titles like “The Existentialist in the Kitchen”. For Treslove, Finkler comes to represent Jewish identity: The ‘Jewish question’ (in all its loaded historical ambivalence) becomes the Finkler question, at once sanitized and personalized. Both men regularly meet with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a colorful Mittel-European transplant who serves as the book’s heart (as well as narrator Steven Crossley’s finest achievement). He is crotchety, funny, and touching in his devotion to his dead wife, even while on hilariously awkward dates.
Jacobson has great fun in pitting his character’s different approaches to Jewishness against each other, particularly Treslove’s gauche appropriation (“He looked like Topol; that’s how Treslove knew he was a Jew.”). There is a sense that the three male leads are facets of one personality with a schismatic approach to Jewishness: Crossley, however, is able to give each one their own unique voice. In fact, with The Finkler Question, Crossley gives a masterclass in narration. His characterizations are colorful without lapsing into caricature, and he unfailingly gets the intent behind each line, each rhetorical question, each instance of passive-aggressive indignation (and there’s a lot of that). Especially with this book, the narrator has an important task: the physical attack that kicks off Treslove’s identity crisis hinges on a linguistic confusion, and Crossley’s obsessive delivery of each permutation of the attacker’s garbled words is just one very funny moment in an excellent performance.
Julian Treslove and Sam Finkler are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick. Now all three are recently widowed, in their own way, and spend sweetly painful evenings together reminiscing. Until an unexpected violent attack brings everything they thought they knew into question.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Deborah on 14-01-11
Brilliant, dark, funny and a complete pleasure
This book is such an unexpected treat, especially given most of the other reviews. The 3 main characters (Treslove, Finkler and Libor) are brilliant, very clever and funny but also very human and quite sad and by the end of the book you feel you know them inside out (the reader characterizes them beautifully, especially Libor, my favourite). What does it mean to be Jewish, is it a blessing or a curse? The quest to answer this conundrum, the main theme of the book, makes you often smile inside or laugh out loud but the humour is very dark, constellated with wry wisdom. If you 'get it', this is a most wonderful book. I'm going to read more Jacobson on the basis of this.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
By John on 20-01-11
Interesting but soulless
Even though I know it was deliberately void of character development, it was just a bit too soulless for me. Lot's of clever thematic metaphors and all that malarkey but all head and no heart makes Serge a dull boy. One for the critics to de-construct.
The narrator didn't help much either. He reminded me of a newsreader half the time. Maybe he was just keeping in spirit with the lack of emotion in the book. The sound quality wasn't great either though.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By BabsD on 19-11-10
Funny, touching, thoughtful
Wonderful book, brimming with challenging and fascinating characters. Jacobson provides the sparkling words---ironic, true, funny, depressing, illuminating. All of the characters are flawed humans, all receive the author's empathy. Crossley captures each of the characters brilliantly, even the women (and such wonderful women, from the departed Melkie to the serious and humane Hepzibah). Whether precocious child, snarling teen, or ancient Czech, Crossley finds their essence. Was bereft when it ended (only complaint is with the packager, who stepped on the ending without a pause to breathe).
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Paul on 29-12-13
Wise and hilarious.
Any additional comments?
Humor is a curious business, isn't it. Unlike some other reviewers here, I laughed all the way.