Author: Dan Sofer
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Publication date: 3/26/2017
Type: Fiction, Religious & Inspirational Fiction > Jewish > Fantasy
Characters: Moshe Karlin, Rabbi Yosef Lev, Irina, Samira, Galit Karlin
Ray's rating: 3 stars
I have problems with this book, yet it doesn’t suck. It is a technically well-crafted story in that dramatic arcs keep the tension building in all 68 chapters, but it contains themes and allusions that don’t sit well with me.
The premise of the story is that people are returning from the dead (which seems to be the de’jour plot device these days). They appear in cemeteries, naked (reborn; new start), with little or no memories of their deaths. Some remember their previous lives and some don’t. Moshe Karlin, an Israeli, is one of these returnees. He “awakens” in a field near the old section of Jerusalem. From there we follow his confusion and attempts to rationalize what is happening to him. When he discovers the truth of his resurrection, we follow his attempt to recover his previous life. In the process, he is helped and befriended by Rabbi Yosef, and makes friends with other resurrectees.
The story morphs into a thriller, with Moshe and his friends running from Russian slavers. Their plights are complicated by “terrorists” and suicide bombers. A love triangle even develops, though not all its members are aware of it.
The author, Dan Sofer, does know his dramatic structure and carries the reader along with the suspense of “what’s happening” until he reaches the thriller part. The plotline weakens there because it just doesn’t fit well enough with the story told to that point. It involves present day slavers and seems just another attempt to dump on the Russians. I’m seeing that a lot in current drama. I take it as the latest fad that I expect pleases our oligarchs. I don’t think there was as much of this even at the height of the first cold war.
There is a significant subplot that doesn’t really intercept with the main plot, but seems to be a foreshadow for later novels. It concerns a man who believes himself to be the prophet Elijah returned to Earth to herald the Messiah’s second coming. He’s been appearing throughout the centuries, but the Second Coming has always failed to launch for one reason or another. He runs into complications this time as well, including falling for a human. I actually found this subplot more interesting than the main story.
I also found it interesting to read a story set in current-day Jerusalem, showing it as a “livable” place. We see Jews and Arabs getting along at the common level below the political radar, and the story would have been better if Mr. Sofer had stayed with that. Instead, he moved into the political stereotypes that I suppose are required for patriotic Israeli storytelling. It’s probably much like patriotic American storytelling requires belief in “American exceptionalism.” I know many readers will take exception to my analysis here. If so, then enjoy the book, but this is how I see it.
An Unexpected Afterlife is a technically well-told story that held my interest for the most part, at least enough to finish it. Tension and suspense are kept high until it morphs into a thriller that mostly doesn’t work. In the end, it reveals itself as a Jewish religious piece. That’s not to pan it, however. If you like Jewish fiction you’ll probably like this, much as devout Christians often like Christian fiction. What I don’t care for, are the intimations of “crazy Arabs” with no consideration for their political positions (or acknowledgment that they have any). There’s also the depiction of Russians as mafiaosoes dealing in slaves and drugs (and basically everything evil). That’s not to say there’s no Russian mafia, but it smacks of reinforcing the current fad of Russians being the bad-guys-de’jour to support the neo-cold war being pushed on us.
My biggest problem with An Unexpected Afterlife is that it can’t decide what it wants to be: mystery, thriller, religious fiction? Elements of these genres are there and not well-blended. Mr. Sofer is a capable writer and his Dry Bones series seems to be successful. He’s just philosophically too far apart from me to earn any greater recommendation.
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You can find An Unexpected Afterlife on Amazon.com here.