The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Jewish Folklore and Myths, Historical Fiction
The Tiger’s Wife meets A History of Love in this inventive, lushly imagined debut novel that explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between sisters.
When Eli Burke dies, he leaves behind a mysterious notebook full of stories about a magical figure named The White Rebbe, a miracle worker in league with the enigmatic Angel of Losses, protector of things gone astray, and guardian of the lost letter of the alphabet, which completes the secret name of God.
When his granddaughter, Marjorie, discovers Eli’s notebook, everything she thought she knew about her grandfather–and her family–comes undone. To find the truth about Eli’s origins and unlock the secrets he kept, she embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from 18th century Europe to Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and back to the present, to New York City and her estranged sister Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli’s past.
Interweaving history, theology, and both real and imagined Jewish folktales, The Angel of Losses is a family story of what lasts, and of what we can-and cannot-escape.
The Angel of Losses is a creative mix of fantasy, Jewish folklore, and history blended together and secretly embedded into the ancestry of one modern-day family. The plot explores the significance of family bonds, love, sacrifice, and the need for redemption. Feldman packs a lot of subject matter into this book, so it is not a light, easy read.
In a nutshell, it’s a multi-layered novel that begins in the present with Marjorie’s quest to uncover the truth about her grandfather Eli’s past and the mystery behind their family’s legacy. Nestled within this overarching plot are four inter-related folktales about a fictitious White Rebbe (a Jewish Rabbi/guru) and the Angel of Losses who shadows him through life. The folktales are based on the various myths about the Wandering Jew found throughout history. The following artwork matches most closely the depiction of the White Rebbe that is described in this book. This is how I picture him in the novel.
"The Wandering Jew" by Gustave Dore
Wandering Jew: a legendary person said to have been condemned by Christ to wander the earth until the second coming -from The Oxford American College Dictionary
Other aspects of Jewish folklore are woven into the novel as well, such as mysticism and the lost tribes of Israel. Overall, Feldman does a good job in alternating between Marjorie’s story and the folktales about the White Rebbe. There were some places where I wasn’t clear about the shift in time from present to past events, and this occurred primarily when Marjorie reminisces about the close relationship she once had with Holly and their grandfather.
I really had to concentrate when I read this book, and sometimes I even had to back track and re-read scenes to try to understand the relevance of Eli’s secret folktales and their impact on Marjorie and Holly’s family. In the latter part of the book, the connections become clearer to me, but I’m still left with some questions and fuzziness about the long-term effects of Marjorie’s and Nathan’s decisions in their efforts to save the baby. The author gives just enough background about the myths and legends to motivate me to continue reading, but I always felt I was just on the edge of understanding, always wondering if I missed a clue or overlooked an important detail.
Once I finished the book, I did do some research into various interpretations of the Wandering Jew and was surprised by how many stories, poems, and ballads have been written about this legendary figure. I think I could read this book multiple times and continue to find new aspects to consider. The novel would make for a great discussion because of its ambiguity in some areas, but it may not be a book that would appeal to everyone.
What I enjoyed most about the book are the White Rebbie folktales in and of themselves. They are lively, engrossing, and, at times, heartbreaking. Feldman’s gift for storytelling is at its strongest in these supernatural tales about a young Solomon trying to outrun his destiny to become a White Rebbe and the toll it takes on his mind, body, and family. Through these tales, Feldman raises an important question: Can you ever fully escape your past?
A second aspect that made the book so enjoyable is the struggle Marjorie and Holly have to try and regain the emotional distance that now separates them. It’s hard to accept that people grow and change no matter how hard we may want them to stay just as they are, and I can empathize with the frustration Marjorie feels whenever she tries to have a conversation with Holly. Feldman does a very good job in depicting their struggles to accept and forgive each other.
If you like adult fantasy and want a story full of supernatural magic and mystery, consider reading this imaginative retelling of the Wandering Jew.
Source: I received an ARC of this book from the author to provide an honest review.
3.5 Shining Suns
I grew up in Philadelphia and studied writing at the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, and Barnard College. I lived in New York City for 10 years before returning to the Philadelphia area with my husband and daughter.The Angel of Losses is my first novel.
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The Wandering Jew figure can be found in literature, movies, and even music. Here are some links to creative works that feature this mythical character. The Angel of Losses really spiked my curiosity to learn more about this enigmatic character.
Read versions of the Wandering Jew tales here
I like Edward Arlington Robinson’s poetry and he wrote a poem entitled “The Wandering Jew“ which resonated with me because it imagines how the Wandering Jew must feel to never find peaceful rest.
This is one of my favorite apocalyptic movies that was released in 1988, starring Demi Moore who plays Abby Quinn. In the movie, the seven seals that signal the end of times as described in the Book of Revelation have begun to break open, and it seems Abby’s unborn baby may be the key to stopping the impending doom. Father Lucci plays an integral role in the plot and his character was created based on the Wandering Jew legends. You’ll also find other references to Jewish mysticism in the movie.
In Nazi Germany, The Eternal Jew (German title: Der ewige Jude) was released as a “documentary” and used as anti-Semitic propaganda to highlight the alleged flawed nature of Jews and their injurious deeds over the ages.
Read an article called “The Wandering Jew: A Stapleof the Gothic Wanderer Tradition” from Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption; Gothic Literature from 1794-Present (This book is going on my to-read shelf)