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The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonBook Cover of The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

Winner, 2010 Man Booker Prize. He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one… Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, 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 Sevcik, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment. It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses. And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change. The Finkler Question is a scorching story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of the wisdom and humanity of maturity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best (outline provided by the Publisher). Click here to read the full book review.


1. What's wrong with Julian Treslove? Why has his life been such a disappointment? What is missing in him?
2. How does Julian view his friend Sam Finkler? Why does Julian consider him a prototype of Jews? What is the catalog of traits he ascribes to "the Finklers"?
3. What is the significance of the mugging incident, and why does it awaken Julian's desire to become Jewish?
4. Do you find Julian's regard for Judaism funny, endearing, or disturbing? Is he anti-semitic? Can you tell if (or when) he's joking?
5. Describe the contrasting stances on Israel and Judaism taken by Sam and Libor Sevcik? Why, for instance, won't Sam even use the word "Israel"? What are the range of positions on the Israel-Palestine question? Whom do you side with?
6. What is the significance of the book's title, the "Finkler Question"?
7. Jewish exceptionalism exist? What are the arguments for or against?
8. Talk about the meaning of Sam's group, ASHamed Jews? What is the butt of author Jacobson's satire here?
9. Sam tells Libor that he has no anti-Semitic friends, and Libor replies, "Yes, you do. The Jewish ones." Is Libor right: does the primary bastion of anti-semitism lie within the Jewish community? And what does the Jewish film director mean when he says anti-semitism makes perfect sense to him?
10. A resurgence of anti-semitic attacks begin to filter in. Care to comment on this passage? After a period of exceptional quiet, anti-Semitism was becoming again what it had always been—an escalator that never stopped, and which anyone could hop on at will.
11. During dinner early in the book, the three friends—Julian, Sam, and Libor Sevcik—conclude that happiness is sad because we mourn for it when it's missing in our lives. Agree...disagree? Make sense...nonsense?
12. Julian sees his life as "an absurd disgrace, to be exceeded in disgracefulness only by death." What does he mean, and how do you view the statement—is it funny, tragic, correct, dead wrong...?
13. There is a lot of wit in this book. What did you find especially funny—when Libor, for instance, tells Julian at the Lewis Carroll Seder (!) that “the chicken symbolizes the pleasure Jewish men take in having a team of women to cook it for them”? What about Sam's bestselling book titles?
14. Is there far too much rumination, navel-gazing, or self-analysis in this book? Do you find it tedious...or does Jacobson's humor enliven the book's introspection?
15. Is this book a comedy or tragedy?

These questions are provided by the LitLovers.

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