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Jacob's Folly: A Novel

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  802 Ratings  ·  159 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
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 25th 2014 by Picador (first published March 5th 2013)
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Oct 31, 2015 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-fiction
Whoah, what a freaky ride THAT was. From insect copulation to human flatulence, and that's not even going deep into the strange morality of the piece.

Jacob is an amoral Jew from France's 18th century brought back to life as a fly in 21st century NYC where he's given licence to influence the lives of two people--he's linked to Masha Edelman in several ways, but I'm still not sure why Leslie Senzatimore fits in. I found his life story, particularly with regards to his haunted past with his father'
Oct 03, 2015 Marvin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
A young man dies in Paris in the mid-18th century, then reawakens on Long Island in the present--but as, what, a tiny angel who can read people's minds? At first, the whimsical tone and content suggest lightweight fare, perhaps a satire, but it soon turns more serious. The story alternates between the present and the past as we follow, through the eyes of this reincarnated being, the stories of two observant Jews who seek to escape the strictures of their lives for a life of performing on stage. ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Feb 26, 2013 Ayelet Waldman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 13, 2013 jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Sandra Jones
Apr 29, 2013 Sandra Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Deanna McFadden
Mar 18, 2013 Deanna McFadden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2013 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very engaging and compelling but not transcendent. Definitely worth reading. Many twists and turns and incredibly visual.
Diane Eidelman
Mar 27, 2013 Diane Eidelman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Apr 10, 2013 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome book! Clever, funny, very witty writing. So glad I read it!
Lit Folio
Apr 24, 2013 Lit Folio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 17, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france-paris, nyc
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
Apr 12, 2013 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 24, 2013 Cathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 02, 2013 jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Laura Byrnes
Jul 18, 2013 Laura Byrnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Read my review in New York Journal of Books first. I continue my discussion of the novel's theme of assimilation in an article that appeared in a different and now defunct publication and begins with the next paragraph.

Jewish books: Jacob's Folly and assimilation

In Rebecca Miller's latest novel Jacob's Folly, which in my New York Journal of Books review I praise as "well written, humorous, and entertaining," an 18th Century pre-revolutionary Parisian Jew is reincarnated in 21st Century Long Isl
Arlene Miller
Jul 17, 2013 Arlene Miller rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read the first few pages. Fantasy just isn't for me. And this isn't really even fantasy.
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
Oct 03, 2013 Natania rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 02, 2013 Jody rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2014 Annette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rubbish-bin
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
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
Aug 17, 2014 Storyheart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: funny-books
3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for originality and humour.

"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."

So begins the tale of Jacob, 18th century Jewish peddler, petty criminal, valet, honeytrap and cel
Jun 09, 2016 Samantha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Thelma Adams
May 29, 2016 Thelma Adams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I turned to Rebecca Miller as a writer-director having interviewed her on stage for her latest film, the delicious "Maggie's Plan." While doing preparatory research, I discovered that she had written a historical novel about a Jewish man in 18th-century France. Jacob abandons his faith, assimilates into French culture, becomes a valet to an aristocrat intent on stripping away his Judaism, followed by an actor and libertine. And, then, of all things improbable and mysterious, Jacob, his memory in ...more
Jill Meyer
Jun 27, 2016 Jill Meyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Miller has done what very few novelists can do well - write two competing story lines, set in two very different times and places. Normally, one story is stronger than the other. Not in Miller's novel. In "Jacob's Folly", Miller flips back and forth between Paris in the mid-1700's and New York in current times, with a common housefly narrating the connections between the characters and the plot lines. But the housefly is not a normal housefly; he is Jacob Cerf, a French Jew who cast off ...more
Oct 12, 2016 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short, but interesting book on a person who was born an orthodox Jew coming back as a fly much later to observe people he might be related to. I love short books that don't need a 4 month commitment but delight, and this is that book.
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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...

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