An Accidental Messiah, by Dan Sofer. Self-published. 354 pages. Trade paperback $11.97.
This is the second book in Sofer’s highly imaginative, comically visionary Dry Bones Society series. The setting is Jerusalem today. The premise is that the Final Redemption is at hand. The first book, An Unexpected Afterlife, follows the remarkable second chance given to Moshe Karlin – man literally reborn. Yes, dead and then back again. As you might expect, Moshe has trouble convincing anyone of his status – even without a naval. However, when more and more dead Israelis become undead, the question becomes what to do with them.
For the returnee, the question becomes how do they reconnect to their prior lives? Or do they?
The present installment brings back key character from the first. These include the learned but modest Rabbi Yosef, who has become a leader of the Dry Bones Society, which is quickly morphing into a significant political party as the reborn population swells. Government leaders and politicians must decide whether to accept or discredit this new force – a force whose presence signals for many that the end of days is at hand.
Moshe is still striving recapture the love of his former wife, Galit, whom he had let down in his first life. Can he regain her trust and bring her once again to the chuppa? Not if his former friend Avi, mad with jealousy, continues to undermine and betray him.
Then there is Eli Katz, AKA Elijah the Prophet. Is he an eternal. pre-ordained figure ushering in the epoch of Redemption, or a madman with alternative selves? Sofer keeps this ambiguity provocatively alive throughout the narrative.
And what about Eli’s sometimes girlfriend and budding scholar, Noga, whose research suggests that part of Israel’s Arab population can be genetically traced back to Jewish priests of ancient times? Indeed, there is an Arab character in the story who seems to be one of the returnees.
A number of lesser characters are offspring of Russian immigrants, another strong faction in the Israeli population. Largely represented as ruffians and mobsters, they are colorful and well-individualized minor figures.
Much of the fun of the novel – and there is plenty of fun – comes out of Sofer’s parody of Israel’s political culture. It’s exciting and absurdly humorous to see powerful figures and special interest parties vying for a chance to link up with the new Dry Bones Society political entity. But Moshe is careful about what kind of deals he will make. He is seeking true unity, not merely unstable alliances. Rebranding his group as Restart, he wants the new image to be not only a name for the born-again Israelis but also a shared hope for the future of Israeli society.
The author’s press material gives the best overview: “The Final Redemption is here. What took so long? According to Jewish traditions (based on the Old Testament), the End of Days will involve a Resurrection of the Dead, a Messiah King, an Ingathering of Exiles, a Rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, a World War, great upheavals, and a very large banquet of fish (or, in the very least, one very large fish).” You have here the content and tone of the whole.
As one might expect, the Redeemer as represented in the novel is a false Messiah. However, he easily attracts followers. Indeed, the wish for the Messianic age is so powerful that an otherwise level-headed person like Rabbi Yosef is temporarily swept away.
Sofer’s dazzling and sometimes zany exploration of his key “what ifs” is handled in a fluid and attractive prose style. The book is teaming, perhaps somewhat overstuffed, with interesting characters. It keeps an engaging balance between the serious and humorous perspectives that the subject invites. It brings contemporary Jerusalem to life on all levels: the physical-sensory, the cultural, and the spiritual.
About Daniel Sofer
Dan was born under the sunny blue skies of South Africa in 1976. A traditional Jewish upbringing and warm community moved Dan to study and volunteer in Israel as an adult. In 2001, Dan made Jerusalem his home, and the city’s sights, sounds, legends, and spirit of adventure fill his stories. When not writing tales of romantic misadventure, he creates software for large corporations. “Dan Sofer” is a pen name of Daniel J. Miller.
Dan writes tales of romantic misadventure imbued with magical realism. Many of these take place in Jerusalem. His earlier novel, A Love and Beyond, won the 2016 Best Books Award for Religious Fiction. An Unexpected Afterlife (reviewed in April 2017) was presented as Book I of The Dry Bones Society series. Following An Accidental Messiah, the author plans to bring out A Premature Apocalypse – book three in the series..
Dan Sofer’s books are readily available in print and ebook editions via the major internet bookstores. Or find him at http://dansofer.com.
This review appears in the February 2018 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Great Naples), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).