Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Feldman

When I was offered a copy of The Book of Jonah by the publisher for review I was intrigued with the premise that it was a retelling of the Biblical story of Jonah in the form of a modern novel. This is the first novel by the author, Joshua Max Feldman.

Although I didn't expect to find the plot to include a whale that swallowed the protagonist, I did expect that the story would carry a discernible religious theme of the call of God on the life of an individual. However, I was disappointed to find almost no resemblance between the theme of the Biblical story and this novel.

The Jonah of this book is a young, Jewish, ambitious attorney whose career and romance are derailed by strange visions that he decides come from God but that do not bring him a clear message. The visions are erratic and confusing and so are his responses to them. The Biblical Jonah received a very clear message from God that he didn't like and did his best to avoid fulfilling. The Jonah of this book believes the visions are from God but can't interpret them.

After his dramatic termination from his law firm he crosses paths with Judith Bulbrook, a brilliant but deeply disturbed young woman who is also Jewish and whose emotional problems stem from the loss of her parents who were on one of the planes that crashed on 9/11.

Neither of the major characters are particularly sympathetic--but then neither is the character of Jonah in the original Biblical tale. The plot meanders between the two of them and then brings them together in an unbelievable turn of events at the end of the book. It is at this point that the author seems to remember that he intended to strengthen the religious themes of the story and suddenly they are made explicit but don't seem to relate to earlier development of the characters and the plot.

Ordinarily I would quit reading a book that I found unappealing at the halfway point or earlier, but since I had accepted a copy for review I was honor-bound to finish the entire thing. If the themes suddenly brought forward at the end of the novel had been developed throughout the narrative the novel would be much improved.

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