I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
J by Howard Jacobson explores the concept of erasure through a futuristic, dystopian society wherein its citizens had their previous identities erased when they were given new names to live their lives with.
Ailinn Solomons makes paper flowers to sell in the village when Kevern “CoCo” Cohen, a woodcarver of lovespoons, takes notice of her and the two are drawn to one another. Ailinn doesn’t know her parents and grew up in an orphanage in a place north of Port Reuben where they live now and Kevern’s parents are recently deceased–the sense of history that surrounds both people and things seem to generally be lost and knowledge of the past appears to be dictated by whatever governmental structure is in place. There are people in Ailinn and Kevern’s lives who are watching them in various capacities, unknown by Ailinn and Kevern, as they both don’t quite fit in with everyone else in Port Reuben, as if their histories are part of the event that changed everything.
Disorienting. That’s my first reaction to reading J. There wasn’t really any world building or setting the scene as to where things were taking place or even who these people really were. It was all described the vaguest manner possible, with phrases such as “WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.” While I do enjoy books that aren’t explicit in every minute detail such that it spells things out for a reader, this seems to have gone too far. I was constantly frustrated by the lack of detail of place and character to the point where I was thinking, “Yes, I get that this is about atrocities committed against a particular group of people by another (specifically to this book, the ostracizing of the Jewish community), but could you please give me some more concrete details????” There are some interesting and compelling ideas that are brought up in the book, but I couldn’t fully enjoy these ideas because I was so put off by the book’s general vagueness.
Overall, I’d give it a 2 out of 5 stars.