This is an assortment of short stories about Jewish people who want to believe in a God but like many of us, they just can't take that leap of faith. As they stumble through their lives making one mistake after another, they wonder if their souls will reach heaven-if such a place exists. And then what? In "God's Sabbatical," a poor autistic soul arrives in the afterworld and is bunked in a five by five-inch cubicle.
He's told that God is on vacation, and there's an inexperienced bureaucrat running the place. In another story, "Ruthie the Dinosaur Eats the Forbidden Fruit" a nurturing mamasaur (an unknown species) repents, I'm honestly sorry for my mistake, but after all, it was only a piece of fruit and not so good-tasting. In the last story, a talking raven proclaims that Death isn't fair. All the stories are imbued with an ironic sense of humor that I inherited from my grandfather who left the shtetl when he was 18 years old.
This book has hilariously titled chapters, such as:
My Circumcision: An Autobiography
Ruthie The Dinosaur Eats The Forbidden Fruit
This book will have a wide audience, anyone who enjoyed "Fiddler on the Roof," or
actually fiddled on a roof, will want to read this book.
I conceived these short stories after taking a course in Hasidic mythology given at the local Jewish community center. Not being a religious Jew, I wondered how a skeptic like myself would fare in the mystical world that these pious Jews inhabited. Would I spend the afterlife in the Garden of Eden hobnobbing with the Messiah, or would some evil spirit occupy my being?
In writing these stories, I’ve employed humor and magical realism aided by my experience of the human condition as a practicing physician. And remember, good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to bad people. If you liked Fiddler on the Roof or ever fiddled on a roof, you will find these tales entertaining.
Tales of Unkosher Souls has received a Kirkus starred review!
Starred Kirkus Review
“Uneasy Jewish people wrestle with their sins in these tragicomic stories. Margolis' tales mostly explore life in Russian shtetls and the tarnished "Promised Land" of America, as well as souls journeying from life to afterlife, with improbable swerves along the way.
“In "Moshko's Lovers," a rabbi's daughter rejects a village cobbler because he had a vision of eating nonkosher food during a previous incarnation as a courtier to Henry VIII; in "The Dybbuk of Brooklyn," a New York City liquor salesman pays a rabbi to exorcise a wandering spirit who has taken up residence in him and shouts obnoxious comments; and in "Lilith's Daughter," a St. Louis man obtains a female golem who changes from docile servant to an independent woman with feminist beliefs.
“The soul of a poor man waits centuries to enter heaven, only to discover the price of celestial efficiency in "God's Sabbatical"; an angel tells a rabbi to promote a local shepherd as the Messiah, which makes his congregation giddy with delight until the Chosen One makes unpleasant demands in "Two Goats and a Dog"; and in another story, a dinosaur in the Garden of Eden eats the forbidden fruit along with Adam and Eve and watches the punishment unfold. Margolis' fiction mixes magical realism with a rich vein of Jewish humor, featuring shady rabbis, plenty of kvetching ("He just sits there, staring at his plate as if he might find a wife there, and suddenly I'm supposed to marry him?"), and a prosaic approach to ethics that extends into divine bureaucracy ("Well, you stole that bag of candy from Kaminski when you were a kid, and then there were the seventeen apples and eight pears that you pilfered from Goldstein's fruit stand....But that's not enough to get you into Hell").
“But underneath, there's a tenderness that makes the author's funny, ironic view of ordinary life feel luminous, as well, as when a man who lost his wife to cholera calls her "the greatest of angels...who would listen to all that a talkative Jewish man had to say even when he becomes boring."
“Raucously entertaining yarns whose wry wit carries a subtle moral resonance."
5-Star Amazon Review
“Loved this delightful book. Thoughtful insight into deep issues such as: what does it mean to live a Jewish life, what happens to Jews after we die. Somewhat interlinked short stories - interesting and hilarious.”
5-Star Amazon Review
“Why are most of American gifted comedians Jewish? Go figure. This group of short stores had me chuckling from the start. Think Woody Allen. All of Margolis’s characters share feeling of inadequacies from not being good Jews, having failed marriages, wanting to know what happen to them when they die. Their relationship to their rabbis and failure to follow the faith as their families demand are important parts of their daily lives. If you are a Christian be sure to have dictionary nearby. A quick and funny read.”
From The Introduction
“How does a poorly observant Jew, suddenly ger the chutzpah to write about his fellow Jews? It wasn't easy, but writing about anything isn't easy, even composing a grocery list can be a challenge for a septuagenarian like myself. Some of the characters in this book live in shtetls- Jewish villages in czarist Russia--and some in the modern era, except for the dinosaur that lives in the Garden of Eden and the boulder that lives by the seashore. Somewhere in the midst of my writing, I realized that I'm one of a dwindling group of people who actually knew someone who grew up in a shtetl. My grandparents, Laika and Pinya Margolis, immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada from Olgopol, a small village in Russia, in 1906. My grandfather was a very funny man who spoke somewhat broken English, and although he's been dead for fifty years, his speech and humor are present in many of the subjects that appear in this very short book. I conceived Tales of Unkosher Souls after I enrolled in a St. Louis adult education course given by Howard Schwartz, a scholar of Jewish mysticism and mythology.
“I became fascinated by the Hasidic tales that we read. Stories about dybbuks and golems, and souls that transmigrated into animals, plants and even rocks. There were narratives about legendary rabbis with supernatural powers, and anecdotes about the Jewish Messiah soon to appear on this earth, all the while attempting to explain how humans came to be, why we exist, and our ultimate destination after we die. Many of the characters are hatched from these Hasidic stories except that the religious people are replaced by impious doubters and sinners. Yet, when misfortune befalls them, most have a desire to believe in a god, if only they could. I include myself in that category.”