Life should have been sunny for Max Glickman, growing up in Crumpsall Park in peacetime, with his mother's glamorous card evenings to look forward to, and photographs of his father's favourite boxers on the walls. But other voices whisper seductively to him of Buchenwald, extermination, and the impossibility of forgetting.
Fixated on the crimes which have been committed against his people, but unable to live among them, Max moves away, marries out, and draws cartoon histories of Jewish suffering in which no one, least of all the Jews, is much interested. But it's a life. Or it seems a life until Max's long-disregarded childhood friend, Manny Washinsky, is released from prison. Little by little, as he picks up his old connection with Manny, trying to understand the circumstances in which he made a Buchenwald of his own home, Max is drawn into Manny's family history - above all his brother's tragic love affair with a girl who is half German. But more than that, he is drawn back into the Holocaust obsessions from which he realises there can be, and should be, no release.
There is wild, angry, even uproarious laughter in this novel, but it is laughter on the edge. It is the comedy of cataclysm.
Howard Jacobson has written fifteen novels and five works of non-fiction. He won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award in 2000 for The Mighty Walzer and then again in 2013 for Zoo Time. In 2010 he won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question and was also shortlisted for the prize in 2014 for his most recent novel, J.
In this age of lazy reviewing, facile judgment and inflated rhetoric, how is one to convey news of the arrival of a work of genius? This powerful, troubling, moving, profound novel is nothing less. Its architecture - more accurately: its engineering, the construction of it - is a feat of brilliance, so sustained and accurate is it, and yet this is the least of its merits. What really steals one's breath away is its sharpness and depth of insight - a sharpness that flays, and a depth almost too vertiginous to describe - and the remorseless tragedy it unfolds, even as it makes one laugh aloud, sometimes in shock. It is the most intelligent and important novel to appear in this country in years.
Howard Jacobson's gifts as a novelist of the first rank, not just in England, but in English, are well known. He is a master of the language, whose piercing eye makes him the most excoriating as well as the wittiest of writers. Equally to the point, he is one of that small group of authors whose superiority to the average seems to put him well beyond the competence of Booker and Whitbread judges; it is as if winning any such prize would be a diminution of his stature, for he is in a different league, and this novel proves it... It is, to repeat and to repeat plainly, a work of genius."