Harold Jacobson's The Finkler Question is a funny book about anti-semitism, which seems impossible to do without being offensive, right? But Jacobson does it. The book won the 2010 Booker Prize, which is how I heard about it, and I usually love Booker Prize winners (e.g. Wolf Hall, White Teeth). It took me some time to get into The Finkler Question, but about 100 pages in, I became hooked, and thoroughly enjoyed Jacobson’s funny, cringe-worthy and slightly ridiculous book. I think the book provides insight and humor as to Jewish identity generally, but there are certain aspects of it that are particular to the UK (e.g., there appears to be a much larger and more vocal anti-Zionist community in London than there is in the US). The book is primarily told from the perspective of Julian Treslove, a non-Jew whose two closest friends, Libor and Sam Finkler, are Jewish. Julian is obsessed with Jews and the experience of being Jewish, and for much of the book he actually tries to become Jewish by claiming he was the victim of an anti-Jew hate crime and dating a Jewish woman. Treslove is a real cad - he has two children who he barely sees, sleeps with his friend’s wife, and is generally morose, self-obsessed and unreliable. Treslove, in his head, decides that he will call all Jews "Finklers" since his friend Sam Finkler, whom he has known since childhood, thoroughly represented to Treslove the embodiment of Jews . Thus, the book’s title is a play off of the phrase "The Jewish Question," coined in Western Europe to describe the issue of Jews in Europe (e.g., Nazi propaganda touted its concentration camps as the "the solution to the Jewish Question.").More about the book after the jump. I would not necessarily recommend the book to everyone since I think there are some inside jokes that some folks will not get. But anyone with particular interest in this issue would find it funny and thought provoking (Jew or non-Jew). For the recipe, I wanted to make something stereotypically Jewish, so I went with bagels, which I have never made at home before. This recipe is from Peter Reinhart, and while it was actually quite simple, it does require some non-typical ingredients.
In The Finkler Question , Harold Jacobson writes an exploration of anti-semitism and Jewish identity, told primarily from the perspective of a non-Jew, Julian Treslove, and his friends Sam Finkler and Libor Sevick The book doesn't have much of a plot, just really a series of thoughts and interactions between these three characters. All three are sad sacks to some extent - Treslove treats his sons and women badly, he works as a double for celebrities on the party circuit, since he is so nondescript he can be mistaken for Brad Pitt one day and Tom Hanks another, depending on how he dresses. He has a serious inferiority complex, and clearly envies his two friends - Sam and Libor, and this envy focuses on their Jewishness, since it is the one clearly identifiable trait that separates them. What draws Sam and Libor together at the beginning of the book is their recent widowhood. Libor, who is in his late-80's, was madly in love with his wife Malkie whom he was married to for many years. Libor's love for Malkie is really the defining feature of his life, and now that she is gone he is empty, bereft and directionless. Libor, though, unlike Sam, is more comfortable with his Jewish identity. Libor is originally from Czechoslovakia and moved to England during the Second World War. Libor is a supporter of Israel and comfortable in his shoes as a Jew, or so it seems. Sam, on the other hand, is the classic self-hating Jew. Sam went to school with Treslove (and Libor was their teacher, which is how the three of them know each other), and became a best-selling pop philosopher who writes books like "Plato and Weight Loss." Sam is a vocal critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and is also an "ASHamed Jew," a group of semi-famous British jews who formed a group to express their shame of being Jews in light of Israel's politics and actions. Sam lost his wife Tyler, but is a very different kind of loss than Libor, since Sam was a serial philanderer whose wife seemingly loathed him. All three main characters have different "issues" with being a Jew and with personal relationships, and the novel explores these. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of Treslove's relationship with Hephzibah, Libor's great-niece (or other relative, not sure). Treslove idealizes and worships what he perceives as her "Jewishness" - her zaftig figure, her wit and intelligence, her emotional way of speaking and moving, and her warmth and nurturing nature. I found his descriptions of her and the way he linked of all of these characteristics to her Jewishness offensive, but also funny and to some extent, familiar, as a Jewish woman. On the more serious side, I found Jacobson's depiction of the inner conflict so many non-Israeli Jews have concerning the Israel situation really spot on and brutally honest.
Peter Reinhart's Bagels
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 1/2 cups room temperature water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon malt syrup, honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 tablespoons malt powder
Topping of choice: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt. etc...
Directions: Here is a pic of some of the ingredients I got from King Arthur for the bagels.
Divide the dough into 4 oz size balls. I took out my kitchen scale for this.
To form the bagels, I just took my thumb and poked a hole in the roles and then shapped accordingly. Put the bagels on two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and sprayed with Pam or spray oil. Here they are: