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`He watched his life go in a variety of directions.'
on January 12, 2011
Julian Treslove and Sam Finkler are old school friends. Despite very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik. Sevcik and Finkler are recently widowed, and one night the three of them dine together at Sevcik's apartment.
During the evening, they reminisce about the past: their lives before the complicating influences of relationships and children. Treslove is not a widower, but has had a number of failed relationships, wonders whether it is better to go through life without knowing happiness rather than experiencing the pain of loss.
On his way home, Treslove hesitates outside a shop window, and is mugged by a woman. And one consequence of this attack is that Treslove's sense of identity is changed. From being a man who has observed and participated in life rather than experiencing it, he decides that he should covert to Judaism. He starts to learn Yiddish; he tries to understand the world from a Jewish perspective. In short, Treslove wants to belong.
There is a lot more to the story than this: Treslove's search for belonging seems fixed on Sam Finkler. Sam Finkler is the first Jew that Julian Treslove has ever met, and while he does not fit Treslove's stereotypical view, he (privately) calls all Jews `Finklers'. Finkler is successful, Treslove is not. Does Jewishness hold the key? Finkler and Sevcik have different views, but shared experiences. Treslove listens, and is envious.
`He wasn't even living his own life.'
There are a number of messages in this novel and it is clever, if not always comfortable, for Mr Jacobson to focus on Treslove's desire to be Jewish as a way of demonstrating the tensions between exclusion and belonging. Identity, we are reminded, is more than language and ritual. The superficiality of Treslove, the relative success of Finkler and the educated worldliness of Sevcik offer very different perspectives of life.
The writing in this novel is superb and while the characters are not especially likeable, there is plenty of food for thought in the way their lives and interactions are portrayed.
`History's lesson is that bullies ultimately defeat themselves.'