'Revenge of the Elders of Zion': Fighting antisemitism meets dark humor

Imaginative and entertaining is an apt description of the novel as a whole. It does not fit neatly into any standard genre. It is essentially a fast-moving thriller.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump signs an executive order against antisemitism at the White House last year. (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump signs an executive order against antisemitism at the White House last year.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
Dan Sofer is a literary phenomenon. It took him something like 27 years from the time he decided to become a writer to having his first novel published, and when he did so he had already decided that An Unexpected Life was to be the first of a trilogy which he called The Dry Bones Society. That first novel, and the two books that followed, proved enormously successful. Now comes his next novel, Revenge of the Elders of Zion.
It is not surprising that Sofer’s novels have a Jewish dimension. He left his native South Africa for Israel finally in 2001, but he had already spent four years in Yeshivat Har Etzion in the late 1990s, and also somewhere along the way, in his own words, “drove a tank in the Jordan Valley.”
He clearly knows something of life in the United States as well, for Revenge of the Elders of Zion takes place mostly in modern New York – but with a highly imaginative, and hugely entertaining, episode set in a long-lost island somewhere in the Atlantic inhabited by survivors of imperial Russia.
Indeed, imaginative and entertaining is an apt description of the novel as a whole. It does not fit neatly into any standard genre. It is essentially a fast-moving thriller, with a twist-and-turn of a plot that keeps the reader glued to the book, unable to resist turning the next page. Yet at the same time the book is replete with dark humor that can occasionally induce outright laughter.
David Zelig, the last surviving heir to a film production company that has fallen on hard times, is appalled by the antisemitic acts of terror that keep occurring in the States. To justify their activities, the anti-Jewish groups quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims that a secret society of Jews is out to control the world. David decides to create a society based on the myth. Perhaps his new clandestine operation will be able to prevent the next synagogue shooting.
David pulls in two old friends, and together they create The Trio. Almost immediately they are caught up in a terrifying new world of ruthless secret societies intent on achieving their objectives by any means. By extension they also find themselves bound into the anti-terrorist activities of the FBI and the CIA. The plot thickens to include the most extreme anti-Jewish attack ever planned in the USA, the theft of a priceless collection of Fabergé eggs, and an ancient, and highly embarrassing, Christian relic worth as many millions as the eggs themselves – but not to all parties.
“HOW MANY foreskins did the baby Jesus have?” David is asked at one point.
He shrugs. “One.”
“Then how did twelve Holy Prepuces materialize in churches in the Middle Ages?”
The embarrassment becomes highly personal when David himself, fearful for his life, is forced to reveal to the hostile imperial Russian survivors that he is one of the despised Jewish race. On this occasion, as on several others during the course of his roller-coaster adventures, David’s agile brain allied to his smooth tongue saves his skin.
Against this fast-moving backdrop of high adventure and hair-raising escapes from imminent death, David finds time to fall in love. In a final twist of the plot, his adventurous and highly competent girlfriend manages to rescue his inheritance, Zelig Pictures, from destruction and to ensure that David’s arch enemy gets his just deserts.
Sofer’s stylish writing gives Revenge of the Elders of Zion a unique flavor. One does not often encounter a thriller in which page-turning plotting is spiced by an individual type of humor. The underlying theme of the novel is serous indeed – David is motivated to counter the growing tide of antisemitism in the States which occasionally erupts into deadly violence. The bizarre adventures that his worthy aim leads him into make for a highly entertaining read. It is intense, but it is humorous at the same time. The characters are well conceived and convincing. The action is never-ending. What more could anyone want from a thriller?
Revenge of the Elders of Zion is highly recommended.
There is an epilogue – both to this review and to the novel. As you finish the last satisfying sentence of the book, you turn the page only to find a note from the author. He informs his readers that an epilogue to the novel is available as a free download from his website, the link to which he provides. He informs us that it is likely to “boggle the mind.” And it is on that intriguing high note that he leaves us.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. He blogs at a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com

Revenge of the Elders of Zion
By Dan Sofer
311 pages; $14.99