Book Review: An Unexpected Afterlife by Dan Sofer

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Moshe Karlin wakes up one morning, naked and alone, in the Mount of Olives Cemetery. According to his family and friends, he died two years ago, but Moshe is not about to accept his demise lying down.

Is his new lease on life a freak of nature or the start of the long-awaited Resurrection? Moshe doesn’t really care. He vows to beat his “afterlife crisis” and win back his life-and his wife-if it is the last thing he does.

But the road ahead is full of unexpected dangers. Along the way he gains insight into life, love, and the Jewish State, as well as the suspicion that perhaps his perfect first life was not so perfect after all.

Meanwhile, other changes are afoot in the Holy Land. A reluctant prophet prepares to deliver a message of redemption-and the end of life as we know it-when a freak accident changes the course of history.

Readers who enjoy the satire and humor of Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Hiaasen, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams will enjoy this intriguing and humorous mystery in the Jewish lore and legends of the Resurrection, the World to Come, and the Messianic Era.

Seems at first like a strange book for a Catholic to read, right? It was actually really intriguing and educational for me and I enjoyed it enough to really want to read the sequel (though not SO much that I’ve already read it)! I’m not sure whether a Jewish person would say the same, but I didn’t have any religious qualms with it (say, like how I won’t read Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code because I have no interest in reading what I consider to be blasphemous things about Christ). Rather, for me, the book served to educate me a bit on Jewish theology and thought.

When Moshe comes back from the dead he ends up staying at the home of a local Rabbi, who is convinced that Moshe (and others in his situation) herald the coming of the Messianic era. He says, “The Messianic Era. We believe that the End of Days will see the Resurrection of the Dead, the return of Elijah the Prophet, and the revelation of the Messiah-King, son of David.” (Loc 290) A lot of what the Rabbi then does, in terms of hosting Moshe, engaging with his Rabbinical colleagues/superiors, etc., assuming it is factually-based, sheds a lot of light on Jewish culture and religious organization – which, admittedly, I know little to nothing about.

I was struck by the similarities with Catholicism, though I’m not sure why – after all, Christ was Jewish and His Church descended from Judaism. I noted while I was reading that the Rabbi broke bread and gave it and wine to his guests, just as Christ did at the Last Supper. The Rabbi’s explanation of life after the Resurrection–at least in terms of the healing of the body–is very similar to Catholic teaching. I also noted that the explanation given for trust put in the “leading Rabbis of the generation” (Loc 2364) is strikingly similar to the Catholic Magisterium – we believe that the Holy Spirit guides the leaders of the Church to the right conclusions and therefore we trust in their authority.

There is a fascinating discussion by scientists in a hospital setting about having obtained “scientific proof” that all people descended from a single female. It would be fascinating if such proof actually existed! It was a great reminder, though, of science being part of mankind’s search to understand the world that God created, and that, therefore, no person of faith should ever fear science nor see science and religion as incompatible.

These are the lasting impressions I had of the book, but all of these insights gained were wrapped up in a compelling narrative with relatable, realistic characters. I was invested in Moshe’s survival and his efforts to win back his wife, as well as the life of the “reluctant prophet” described in the book blurb. I was also struck by the all-too-realistic exploitation of the resurectees (is that a word?) by criminal elements out to profit only themselves.

All this is to say: it’s an enjoyable and realistic read that also caused me to think and to learn, which is what I love in a book. It was entertaining AND edifying!

Four stars!

Top Ten Tuesday (Last week’s edition) – Bookish locations

**So I wrote most of this post last week for last week’s Top Ten Tuesday… and then I lost it. My personal IT support team (read: my husband, who has never used WordPress before) kindly unearthed it for me. So, I’m wrapping it up and posting it for this week instead. Enjoy!

It’s Top Ten Tuesday time again, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is “bookish settings you’d like to visit.” My first participation in Top Ten Tuesday I slacked off and didn’t get to ten, but I’m going to do better this time. Here goes:

  1. Narnia – I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia with my eldest daughter the past two years and Narnia is so full of adventures!The Chronicles of Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia, #1-7)
  2. Mammoth Lakes, California – This is the setting of Stopping the Road, which I wrote about last week. My husband was out there this summer to climb in the Sierra with his sister. When I’m done nursing (it WILL happen someday soon) and back in climbing shape (that will take a bit longer…) I’d love to get out there with him myself!22619536
  3. Alaska – I recently read Braving It and while I don’t quite want to experience the Alaskan wild in the same way Cameron and his daughter do, Alaska is definitely on my list of places I’d like to go. 30112406
  4. Israel/the Holy Land – Frequent readers around here know I’m passionately Catholic, and the Holy Land is near the top of my list of places to go. I recently read An Unexpected Afterlife (review forthcoming), which takes place in Jerusalem. It’s a fascinating read; I definitely want to read the sequel! 34348069
  5. Scotland – Loch Ness Monster, anyone? A lot of At the Water’s Edge takes place in Scotland, and though I’m sure it’s entirely different now than it was in the 1940s (which is when the book takes place), it certainly seems like an interesting place to visit.23209927
  6. The body farm – A body farm is a facility where researchers study decomposition. Apparently there are six in the United States, and I know that at least the one at the University of Tennessee offers tours. I’ve always been fascinated by forensic anthropology; Dead Men Do Tell Tales is just one of many books I’ve read on the subject. Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist
  7. Calabria – Ok, so I’ve already been there, but I’d love to go again. I had the great privilege of going there as a teenager and seeing the towns where my great-grandparents grew up. I remember thinking it was a place stuck in the past, and I wonder what it looks like today. Strega Nona is a favorite of mine, and I love that she lives “in a little town in Calabria.”   581409
  8. Vietnam – Senior year of college I took a class on postwar Vietnam and it was fascinating; I’ve wanted to visit ever since. The Unwanted, a memoir written about the plight of mixed-race children of Vietnamese women and American soldiers, was assigned reading for the course and I’ve never forgotten it.   281755
  9. Who-ville – I want to be clear here that I mean the Who-ville of How The Grinch Stole Christmas and not Horton Hears a Who. I mean, it’s the same Who-ville but I want to visit at Christmas – to join the Whos for the singing and the feast, not the drop into a field of clovers… How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
  10. Plum Creek – I think I’ve mentioned before that I loved the Little House on the Prairie books so much as a kid that I wanted to return the whole country to covered wagon times. Well, after rereading several of the books in the series with my daughter, I think I’ve decided that Plum Creek (where they live in On the Banks of Plum Creek) is my favorite location. There’s something about living in a dugout house along the creek that still seems wonderful, even though my adult, mom-eyes have a whole new perspective on the life of the Ingalls family! 7882