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August 25: Howard Jacobson

Lawrence Bush
August 24, 2016

British novelist Howard Jacobson, whose 2010 novel The Finkler Question (a book about Jews from the perspective of a non-Jew) won the Man Booker Prize, was born in Manchester on this date in 1942. Jacobson has published fourteen novels since 1983 — most recently, Shylock Is My Name — featuring funny and heady explorations of Jewish identity, male-female relations, sexual longing, Zionism, and more. He also has five books of non-fiction and numerous screenplays to his credit, and is a weekly columnist for The Independent, in which he often defends Israel against the condemnation of zealots. “[A]ll the things they know they can’t say about Jews in a post-Holocaust liberal society, they can say again now,” Jacobson argues in Tablet. “Israel has desacralized the subject. It’s a space in which everything is allowed again.” Often compared to Philip Roth, Jacobson prefers the comparisons that have been drawn to Jane Austen.

“I’m not by any means conventionally Jewish. I don’t go to shul. What I feel is that I have a Jewish mind, I have a Jewish intelligence. I feel linked to previous Jewish minds of the past. I don’t know what kind of trouble this gets somebody into, a disputatious mind. What a Jew is has been made by the experience of 5,000 years, that’s what shapes the Jewish sense of humour, that’s what shaped Jewish pugnacity or tenaciousness.” --Howard Jacobson

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.