Hats off to Howard Jacobson, often dubbed "the British Philip Roth," who was long-listed yesterday for the Man Booker Prize in Fiction. While his book, "The Finkler Question," a comic novel about three single Jewish intellectuals, has not been released in the States yet, it’s already made a big splash in the UK. It’s reception is worth noting too, in light of the recent uptick in concern over British anti-Semitism.
You’ll recall the Caryl Churchill affair last year, where Churchill’s harsh play rebuking Israel ("Seven Jewish Children") had many, including Jacobson, lambasted her as an anti-Semite. And if you needed a deeper investigation into British anti-Semitism, Anthony Julius’ new history of the phenomenon, "Trials of the Diaspora," is perhaps the most well-received book on the subject yet.
According to reviews, you can expect Jacobson to attack the problem head on. Though teeming with humor, "Finkler" also spends a good deal of time dealing with all forms of anti-semitism, from soft bigotry and self-hate to the most damning and dangerous kind: violence. Jacob Treslove, a BBC radio reporter and middle-aged single Jew, gets mugged by a woman, who assails him with: "You Jew!" And his friends Samuel Finkler and Libor Sevcik, both recently widowed Jews, also hold forth on the Jewish question.
Though roundly praised already, "The Finkler Question" faces tough competition, from Peter Carey’s "Parrot and Oliver" to David Mitchell’s "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet." But even a nomination for the Booker Prize, England’s highest literary award, is already an accomplishment. Here’s hoping U.S. readers will see the book brush up on our shores soon.