OUR JEWISH ROBOT FUTURE
by Leonard Borman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Leonard Borman's novel Our Jewish Robot Future tells the story of Margarita Haralson, an Italian-Jewish immigrant to America who discovers she is destined to become the matriarch of a future robotic society. The novel opens with Alex Haralson, Margarita’s husband, telling his rabbi about a strange trip he has taken to a distant planet he identifies as the Garden of Eden. Margarita explains that when her husband was away, he was replaced by a robotic version of himself, nearly undetectably different than her husband.
Margarita is the narrator of the story, relating what happened to her and Alex to make them the progenitors of a robotic race. However, Borman’s decision to essentially tell his story through his narrator’s stream of consciousness is a mistake. Margarita manages to combine all the worst stereotypes of Italian mothers and Jewish mothers. Her children’s inability to live up to her hopes and expectations are her driving force. She desires nothing more than to have grandchildren, but her physician son doesn’t do anything more than play video games and smoke pot in the basement and she suspects her daughter of being a lesbian.
There is more to Our Jewish Robot Future than just harping on Jewish stereotypes. Borman does draw from the Bible as an inspiration with Margarita and Alex's story, taking aspects of the stories of both Adam and Eve with Alex's journey to the Garden of Eden and their role as Ur-ancestors to the robots. Similarly, there are strong aspects of the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Haralson's tale as they found a new people with their late-in-life child.
Our Jewish Robot Future is billed as a humorous novel. Unfortunately, most of the humor comes from playing off stereotypes rather than introducing wit or creating comedic situations. Borman made the task of writing a humorous novel even more difficult by saddling himself with a protagonist who is neither appealing nor sympathetic. Furthermore, by making Margarita an unreliable narrator, Borman further distances her and the story from the reader without enough pay off. That distance is a problem and nearly everything serves to heighten it. In addition to her nature, the fact that the entire story is told in flashback, and not even linearly, takes away from the urgency of the story. The denouement is telegraphed by the very fact that Margarita is telling her history.
The parts of the novel that work the best are when Alex is exploring his Garden of Eden, the planet of Airets. Alex not only explores the surface of the planet and its civilization, but also explores some very basic concepts in Judaism. It is in these areas that the reader can really wrestle with the ideas that Borman is putting forth, although the struggle with Borman's narrative structure may have left the reader winded before the real bout begins, which is too bad.
At the core of Our Jewish Robot Future, there is a wonderfully thoughtful novel. Borman's attempt to put his ideas and the twists his characters have on Jewish thought before his readers takes a wrong turn early on. The unsympathetic nature of his narrator, and of the narrative, creates an unwelcome barrier to the heart of the matter.
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