Notes on The Finkler Question
A friend of mine recommended to me The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which recently won the Man Booker Prize. The book explores the question of religious (Jewish) identity in modern times through one man's daily life experiences. The book features both Jews and non-Jews, and the different levels of religious observance (or anti-observance, including self-hatred) tell the story of how different people viewed religious identity differently. I found it remarkable how various non-Jews in the book, like the main character, did more to be Jewish (and wanted to become Jewish), while the Jews behaved in the opposite manner. The book raised many questions, like the meaning of religion and its differences from culture and family (style and tradition).
Overall, the book started very slowly and was quite a long read. It takes place in England, and the audio version featured a reader with an English accent. While this was "authentic," it was painfully difficult to understand (at double or triple speed like I like to listen to audio books); it took me about half the book to get up to triple speed with good comprehension. (Audio books should be offered with multiple speakers to choose from!)
I found the book mostly depressing and sad (this was also the main character's recurring personality), with many themes related to mourning and death and little in the way of humor or comedy. I guess it's not my preferred genre, but after making it through to the end, I do realize why the book won its prize, and the central questions of religious identity and cultural tolerance the book raises are important for everyone to consider. I did enjoy the actual language and literary style as there were many plays on words and cool language tricks that I appreciated.
My notes on the book are below; I'm sure I must have messed up some chapter numbering (and name spelling) at some point, but I hopefully captured the main elements of the plot and my most important takeaways.
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