Jacob's Folly: A Novel
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Jacob's Folly: A Novel

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  547 ratings  ·  135 reviews
A luminous novel--funny and moving in equal measure--that shines with the author's unique talents
"Jacob's Folly" is a rollicking, ingenious, saucy book, brimful of sparkling, unexpected characters, that takes on desire, faith, love, acting--and reincarnation.
In eighteenth-century Paris, Jacob Cerf is a Jew, a peddler of knives, saltcellars, and snuffboxes. Despite a disa...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 25th 2014 by Picador (first published March 5th 2013)
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Marika Alexander
The saying about being a fly on the wall really applies to Jacob's Folly!

I finished reading this book almost a week ago, but I'm still not sure what is my overall impression. I thought the book jacket had an interesting premise- that Jacob Cerf is a Jewish peddlar in Paris in the 1770's. And then he is reincarnated as a fly, only this time it's in the 21st century. He directly and indirectly influences the lives of two people, a heroic giant by the name of Leslie Sinzatimore, and an Orthodox Jew...more
Lit Folio
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant! For a good week or so, I could not keep my hands off this compulsively good read. I was transfixed by the rich, almost-too-good-in-some-spots prose-In fact, I can't help but see an uncanny parallel to another read, CLAIRE ANGE--which is altogether funnier in many ways but has similar threads--which I will not divulge here except to say both of these reads are superb.

But to get to this one:

Firstly, I am stunned by the unfavorable reviews here. I could not have be...more
Hearing the plot of Rebecca Miller’s ebullient new novel, “Jacob’s Folly,” one might forgive a potential reader from wondering “now how is she going to pull that off?” While I’d normally shy away from any spoilers, in this case the marketing material and the even the book jacket have already spoiled the surprise – our narrator and guide Jacob Cerf died in 18th Century France and wakes up on modern Long Island. Seemingly invisible and blessed with a lovely set of wings, we might forgive Jacob for...more
Deanna McFadden
Adore Rebecca Miller's writing. It's amazing to me that this book is from the point of view of a 17th century man reincarnated as a fly in modern-day society, and that it actually works. While he's somewhat of a despicable character, I really loved the modern portions of this story--they contain what Miller does best, exploring the deep in betweens of society, what happens when you just don't fit in (as one of the POVs of this book is of a beautiful young extremely religious girl who finds a cal...more
Diane Eidelman
What a tremendous book!! Fascinating how the author rendered the story. Who from Long Island can resist a book whose main character is a 17th century Parisian Jewish peddler who dies and is reincarnated as a fly in Patchogue? I loved every rollicking page and the symmetry of the characters. The writing is delicious, and very lyrical. Don't miss this one.
Girl with her Head in a Book
Jacob's Folly begins with one of the most bewitching opening paragraphs I can remember:

I, the being in question, having spent nearly three hundred years lost as a pomegranate pip in a lake of aspic, amnesiac, bodiless and comatose, a nugget of spirit but nothing else, found myself quickening, gaining form and weight and, finally, consciousness. I did not remember dying, so my first thoughts were confused, and a little desperate.

With that, the reader is catapulted into the world of Jacob Cerf, 1...more
Ayelet Waldman
This book doesn't necessarily fulfill its ambition, but it's better to strive and not quite succeed than not to try at all. It's fascinating and worth the read.
Awesome book! Clever, funny, very witty writing. So glad I read it!
JACOB'S FOLLY is a great read. Author Rebecca Miller weaves the story of "Jacob" from his life as a Jewish man in Paris during the French Enlightenment through his re-incarnation as a fly in modern times. Carefully and cleverly, Jacob's life, his family and orthodox Jewish customs collide with the dreams of his five times rebellious great granddaughter, Masha. The story unveils his impoverished life in the 1700's, including mores, manners and customs of the time. A look into the current beliefs...more
It may be that my high expectations of this book contributed to my lack of enthusiasm during and after reading it. I thought the premise was brilliant, and had so much potential. My biggest complaint was that I found the book boring. I couldn't bring myself to care about the characters, with the possible exception of Jacob during certain periods of his 18th-century life. I thought most of the characters were superficially developed, particularly Masha. I get irritated by portrayals of women as h...more
A housefly as a narrator--was that really necessary? I was skeptical when I started the book, and I still wonder why the two stories had to be linked this way. The housefly adds a bit of absurdity, and a karmic angle. But why a fly?

Doesn't matter--this is a very enjoyable book. Great writing at a sentence level, a good balance of lightness and sadness. Plus it's all about the pull of secularism on Orthodox Judaism.

The housefly is Jacob, also known as Gebeck and "Le Naif." His story takes us to 1...more
Lisa Zargarpur
I really loved the first half of this book. Jacob dies a peddler and finds himself reincarnated into the body of a fly. He doesn't believe this at first and assumes he is an angel. He has been given the ability to enter some humans' minds and see their family histories and their thoughts. He finds a human who interests him and hangs around her.

For me, the story declined as the girl's character (Masha) developed. I get tired of reading about characters who have some secret potential to be the mo...more
Maybe 3.5 stars. I picked this up because I thought the premise was utterly original and clever. Despite not really liking most of the characters, especially the fly-narrator, I found myself more interested in the story than I might have expected as it came together. I found it interesting how Miller pulled the stories together at the very end. (Although I do agree with some other reviewers: didn't care too much about the utterly beguiling but blah Masha, not sure why as a fly Jacob could hear t...more
The plot of the book is somewhat interesting, well described by others. Of the 3 parts the story that takes place in 18th century Paris was by far the most interesting, My 2 problems with this book are that the 3 parts don't hold together as a coherent whole and that is is badly written. I frequently found the author's choice of words to be so bad as to be jarring. "That evening bride and groom ....their happy smiles sweetening the memory sticks of all present". " As the two sexes beat a path to...more
I find myself faintly bored with this book. It’s very well written, but the author seems to have a penchant for describing the trivial details of life with far too much gusto, and the basic storyline seems to be about this fly that wants to corrupt some good people because he thinks he’s a demon and he has some sort of supernatural influence over them.
Interspersed with this is the story of Jacob back in the 1700s as a man (he’s the fly in today’s world), and the stories of the two people with w...more
A very intelligent book; if you enjoy a turn of phrase and delicious wording as well as intriguing character development and a novel story and rich historical development, this book you will greatly enjoy! A wee bit ribald in places, but the story is compelling. Great insights into thing seriously Jewish are of interest to me as well. Again, I found Miller's powers of description alone worth the read!
I found this book very engaging and compelling but not transcendent. Definitely worth reading. Many twists and turns and incredibly visual.
Arlene Miller
Read the first few pages. Fantasy just isn't for me. And this isn't really even fantasy.
Sandra Jones
Jacob Cerf becomes the pawn in a Parisian count’s bet that Jewishness can be shed. In a matter of months, the count transforms Jacob from impoverished street peddler to educated and well-mannered Parisian. Jacob is enjoying his comfortable circumstances, but unwilling to take the final step in the bet without a cut of the winnings. After some negotiations, the count relents and gives Jacob his portion of the prize. Jacob remains a close and trusted servant until an incident involving the count’s...more
This book was great fun. I enjoyed it thoroughly from beginning to end. No literary masterpiece, it is nonetheless wonderfully well written; the prose is assured, dynamic, seductive. The story--or three, interwined stories--is totally absorbing, though I think the author could have dropped one of them (the Leslie Senzatimore strand) and allowed us to focus more on the others. The depiction of Jewish life in eighteenth-century Paris was fascinating, and her compassionate portrait an ultra-Orthodo...more
Laura Byrnes
A great tale, well-written. I was the only one in my book club, however, who enjoyed it. Not really clear why that is. I mean, a few members really, really had issues with this book. "Jacob's Folly" contains themes of assimilation, "individuation" (I quote the author, Rebecca Miller, here), and fate. It's interesting how she wove these same basic themes through two different time periods, 17th century France and present day Long Island. How little life changes, and how basic is the human need to...more
Elyse Rudin
I enjoyed this book. Four stars is generous but a book worth reading. A Jewish man in the 1700's returns to the 21st century as a fly and proceeds to try to change the course of two people's lives. I understand how the fly is involved with one character but no clue the meaning of the involvement with the other. Strange plot but I bought into it. The second half not as well told as the first and sort of over the top not withstanding the fly. Still a fun read.
There is no earthly reason why this novel works as well as it does, except for the fact that Rebecca Miller is a great writer and really knows how to tell a tale. A Jewish peddler in 18th Paris who, under unusual circumstances, comes to 21st century New York and encounters a volunteer fireman and an ultra-Orthodox wouman with dreams of becoming an actress, thinking he can determine their fate. Marvelous book.

If I could, I would give it another half star.
Judy Bart
I loved this book in the beginning. It is written by the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis who has been on a lot of talk shows promoting it. Her research is impeccable and her writing is beautiful, but the story falls apart in the middle and never regains the umph it had at the start. It is two parallel stories, one about a Jewish peddler in the 1700's in France, the second about an Orthodox Jewish girl in present day New York. The peddler becomes reincarnated as a FLY, yes you heard me right, a fly, and...more
Outstanding. Creative unusual way to reveal a story about a Jewish family. Flipping back between the 1700s and current time, Rebecca provides us with rich characters, her depth of comprehension of the jewish lives of her characters are so real, it is hard to believe that Rebecca did not grow up in an orthodox jewish family. Wow. Throughly enjoyed this.
one of those books that i finished, very much enjoyed, but have no real idea why. the writing is smart and funny. the characters are interesting and complex and i found that i really enjoyed reading about the jewish customs and life for an observant jew in the 1700s and today. i'd highly recommend it-but i don't know why :-)
Keith Wilson
An itinerant Jewish peddler from 17th century France dies and is re-incarnated as a fly in modern Long Island. At first he thinks he's an angel because he has wings, but he is no angel. Quite the contrary.

I loved this book, in part because the extreme suspension of disbelief necessary to read it results in a heavy investment on the reader's part. We tend to love things that we invest heavily, if only to feel better about it. Just when you think no more incredible things can happen, Miller demand...more
Really interesting and different read. Miller's story weaves together three narratives: the life of an 18th century Jew in Paris, a modern-day Orthodox girl in Queens and a volunteer Long Island firefighter. Although it seems impossible for these three very different people to be interconnected, Miller comes up with an unusual but believable convention to keep all the ends tied together. The only problem: the ending! Endings are often difficult and I would have loved to seen a longer, more drawn...more
The first half of the book was intriguing and funny, and I cared about the characters. Then it fell apart; the characters became two-dimensional stereotypes, and the fly all but disappeared, only added in almost as though it were obligatory. I grew impatient with the parts that extolled Masha so much. It's boring to hear (or read) someone in love go on and on about how perfect the love object is. I felt like the author was in love with Masha and stopped painting her as a person. At the end, ther...more
Kay Wright
Jacob goes from 1700 Paris to 21st century America in a ribald story about observant Jews and the constraints on their lives put there by both their beliefs and the prejudices of their neighbors. an interesting story by the daughter of Arthur Miller who also makes movies from her books. In the 1700s Jacob is a skinny, poor but very observant Jew. in the present he has been transformed into a fly, shades of Gregor, and can read the minds of the people he hangs with. I liked the old story better t...more
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Rebecca Miller is an American film director, screenwriter and actress, most known for her films Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, The Ballad of Jack and Rose and Angela, all of which she wrote and directed.

Daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and photographer Inge Morath.

Miller married the actor Daniel Day-Lewis in 1996.

More about Rebecca Miller...
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Personal Velocity The Ballad of Jack and Rose School Library Journal Clearly Outstanding - a practical guide to creating outstanding practice in Early Years Settings

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