The first Jew Julian Treslove ever met — at least, that he knew was a Jew — was a boy at school, Sam Finkler. For Julian, Finkler became the prototype Jew and The Finkler Question is “The Jewish Question.” (Reminds me of the old conundrum about the elephant and the Jewish Question.)
Julian seems to have spent much of his life looking for an identity and his future true love, the “Juno” a fortune teller promised him. On the way to Juno he tries Joanna and Josephine and considers Judith — and also fathers two sons in whom he takes minimal interest. Meanwhile he contemplates Finklers and tries on the identity for himself. After seeing a particularly outrageous play condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians,
Hard to go on feeling outrage for people who behaved to you exactly as they were accused of behaving to everyone else precisely because of which accusations you were outraged for them. Hard, but not impossible.
Julian’s wishy-washy nature and disorganized seeking make him an effective foil for the Jewish characters in the novel: Finkler himself with his shame over Gaza, Libor in mourning for his deceased wife and deceased Prague, Hephzibah (aka Juno) who plays the Jewish mother to Julian. At one point Julian struggles through the hundreds of pages of Maimonides’ Guide for the the Perplexed in vain search for understanding. I’ve been there myself and could have told him that Maimonides offers yet more perplexity. What can come is the feeling and sometimes Julian almost gets it. Almost.
Jacobson has a nice light touch when dealing with ethnicity and the contrariness of the religion / tribe / culture that is Jewish life in England. The story scrapes near the bone when Finkler joins a group ASHamed of the actions of Israel. Jacobson tries for humor but we have to feel the pain:
By what twisted sophistication of argument do you harry people with violence off your land and then think yourself entitled to make high-minded stipulations as to where they may go now you are rid of them and how they may provide for their future welfare?