May Jewish Bookshelf: The Golden State by Eric Dion Margolis

May Jewish Bookshelf is here! ChiTribe aims to highlight the creativity and excellence of Jewish authors around the world. Each month we will introduce a new book that is authored by Jewish individuals or is centered on Jewish themes, concepts, and characters.

May 2022

The Golden State by Eric Dion Margolis

From Amazon:

“When their maverick great-uncle dies and leaves behind a cryptic will, sixteen-year-old Matt Rosen and his older sister Becca leave their California suburb on a road trip to find a long-lost, magic family bracelet. Matt doesn’t care about his family, his Judaism, or history at all—only his great Goyish uncle who gave him a key to something greater. But as they follow the clues left behind by the bracelet to New York City and beyond, they discover an unexpected and disturbing relationship between the bracelet, their family, and a murderous white supremacist known as ‘the Cowboy’. Matt and Becca try to anticipate the Cowboy’s next move as they chase him on a whirlwind tour of American and family history.

Described as confidently written, historically sweeping, and stylistically adventurous, Margolis’s debut literary work provides unique and unsettling insight into the 21st-century Jewish-American reckoning with the American dream.”

About The Author

In promoting this month’s Jewish Bookshelf entry, ChiTribe had the opportunity to talk with author Eric Dion Margolis!

Jewishness gives me a method to define a good way to live a life that also makes the world a better place, moving beyond just the Jewish community

Eric Dion Margolis

Tell us a little about yourself. Your story. Where are you from? How did you get into writing?

I loved writing even before I could even write. My mom and I would play by cutting out and pasting pictures from magazines onto cardstock paper, and I would dictate a story to go with the pictures for my mom to write down. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was under 10, and spent pretty much my whole childhood writing every chance I got, mainly fantasy, but comedy and other things, too. Thinking back, I’m not exactly sure why I loved it so much, but I was just obsessed with storytelling. Writing, world-building, characters, just all of it. I always knew I was going to write in some shape or form when I grew up, it was just a question of how. 

Did you do anything Jewish growing up? Do you do anything Jewish now?

I was born in Oakland, California but spent most of my childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia. While my Philly suburb was distinctly non-Jewish, my parents raised me and my brothers with a very strong Jewish identity. We went to synagogue and Hebrew School, celebrated all the Jewish holidays, got Bar Mitzvah’d, and so on. While I don’t consider myself a religious person, I take Jewishness into account for everything in my life: my ethics, my spirituality, and my way of life. I love to read and tell Jewish stories, bond with Jews from around the world, and use Jewish traditions and texts as a basis for my worldview and personal spiritual practice. Jewishness gives me a method to define a good way to live a life that also makes the world a better place, moving beyond just the Jewish community.

Who are your literary influences? Any Jewish literary influences?

I wrote Golden State explicitly taking a lot of American and Jewish-American literary influences into account. When I was studying literature in high school and college, I was really influenced by the writing of major canonical authors like James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy. After I came up with the concept for the Golden State, I started writing my senior thesis at Yale on multilingualism in Jewish-American literature. A lot of the authors I read for the project—Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, Phillip Roth, and so on—became direct literary influences on the novel and I tried really hard to grapple with some of their ideas in The Golden State. I didn’t try to directly enter a discourse with them, per se, but just exist in the same room, the same space. Think about the same concepts and ponder the same realities of Jewishness and Jewish-American being. 
At the same time, my storytelling style has been heavily influenced by the magical realism of international and Japanese authors like Márquez, Yoko Ogawa, and Haruki Murakami. 

What does it mean to be a Jewish writer/author?

Broadly, I’d say that anyone who takes Jewishness into account with what they write is a Jewish writer. I’m more interested in what it means to be a good Jewish writer. To me, that means being critical and thoughtful about Jewishness in one’s writing. That might be because I’m more interested in criticism than celebration. And I think just celebrating Jewishness in one’s writing is fine. But at the same time, I believe the greatest Jewish authors, like Ozick and Bellow, were really, really harsh about American Jews and American Judaism in the best possible way. They had fantastic, difficult ideas about the problems in the community, problems that dealt with discourse, practice, faith, and relationships, and wrote amazing stories that didn’t shy away from the difficult realities and philosophical quandaries of Jewish-American life. I come from a privileged background, as do many American Jews, so I think we all have a responsibility to confront and use any privilege we have for the benefit of those with less.  

What is the most unique thing about The Golden State? What stands out to you compared to your other works? 

I like to believe that Golden State has accomplished something unique by telling a Jewish-American bildungsroman adventure with a magical realist approach mainly found in modern Japanese literature (read Sayaka Murata, for example). There are a lot of road trip stories out there, but the events of The Golden State exist in this liminal space between reality and magic. I think that makes the story a lot more interesting, and also more meaningful. Even a realistic story is still just fiction, right? Sometimes, the surreal and magical are the only way to explain and understood the reality of life. So Golden State is a realistic story with a surprising dose of magic.

Finish the phrase – When the Tribe gathers,

When the Tribe gathers… old stories become new.

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Scott Prywitch

Scott Prywitch