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The Howard Jacobson Question

- Abstract

The British writer Howard ­Jacobson was so astonished when his latest novel The Finkler Question won the Man Booker Prize—the most prestigious award for ­fiction in the English language—that he asked the BBC interviewer who introduced her segment on the award if she could please repeat her opening phrase, “Howard Jacobson has won the Man Booker Prize.”

Jacobson is, in his public persona at least, one of Britain’s most likable literary and media figures. It is a testament to his popular success as a genial but demanding presenter of TV arts programs that the reaction to his literary triumph has been so overwhelmingly positive. For as amiable as he might be, Jacobson fearlessly broke with the politics of the literary and arts world by decrying the ascent of acceptable anti-Semitism in Britain and, even more bravely, made it clear that fashionable anti-­Zionism is just a gussied-up version of the older hatred. Indeed, these themes are at the center of The Finkler Question, which is why his victory was so unexpected, not only to him but to everyone else as well. The fact that he was given the Booker the same month that Nobel judges in Sweden named Mario Vargas Llosa the literature laureate and Nobel judges in Norway gave the Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao the Peace Prize makes you wonder if Northern Europe has somehow slipped out of joint—and high above London, Stockholm, and Oslo, swallows are now dining on eagles.

About the Author

Jonathan Foreman, a writer living in London, was formerly the movie critic and a war correspondent for the New York Post. He last wrote for us about the Mumbai terrorist attacks (“India’s Time of Reckoning,” February 2009)