Audiobook. Before I decided to read this Man Booker prize winner, I read some strongly worded dismissals of the book and the author. But John Self (no relation) at Asylum said it was funny so I went with that. And I’m glad I did.
The focus is mainly on Julian, a 50ish nebbishy fellow and his connections with Sam Finkler, his very successful friend from school days, and Libor, their professor. There’s not much or a narrative arc, but Julian chews over everything long enough to turn anything into an event that fits his own narrative.
It seems that every view of Jewish life and Israel is represented by various characters. And Julian tries mightily to figure out how to be Jewish, perhaps in hopes of being a more successful person in many ways. He is impressed, for example, by Finkler’s expressive shrug, wondering if God had passed that along to the Jews alone.
He listens with respect to his friends; Libor and Sam Finkler disagree about every aspect of the Middle East. Sam says, “Here we go,” whenever any question of Israel would come up, “holocaust, holocaust.” Libor, in his turn would say, “here we go, here we go, more of the self-hating Jew stuff.”
They had been going at it for decades, or at least since Finkler had gone to Oxford. At school Finkler had been so ardent a Zionist when the six day war broke out, he tried to enlist in the Israeli air force, though he was only 7 at the time. “You misremember what I told you,” Finkler said when reminded of that. “It was the Palestinian air force I tried to enlist for.” The Palestinians don’t have an air force,” he is told. “Precisely,” Finkler says.
Some reviewers find this to be warmed-over Philip Roth or low-grade P.G. Wodehouse; but I never tired of the needling of a subject until it is worn to shreds or the light, just-barely-funny humor.
For me the importance of personal connections, be they cultural-religious, personal, family, or whatever, was the overriding message of this book. At the outset I found Julian a sorry sort, but came to wish him well in his quest to belong to a group and another person.