I love reading fiction with a Jewish theme, so I jumped at the change to review The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman. “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.”
Even though I know a lot about Judaism, I had a hard time determining what mythology in this book was real and what was made up. I felt like I needed a bit more background on the various myths explored in the book, including that of the White Rebbe and the customs of the Berukhim Hasidim – who do not actually exist. There were two things that stood out as that which true religious Jews would not have done and I imagine the author could excuse those things as customs of her made up sect. I do wonder if the author just didn’t realize the customs of religious Judaism in regards to those things. At the same time, I found myself confused by the mythology in the book and wanting to know more as a reader and as a Jewish reader specifically.
If the book is regarded as fully fictional and somewhat fantasy, there are many enjoyable things about it, especially the tie-ins from the past to the present. Coincidentally, Marjorie and Holly’s grandfather told them stories that are very familiar to Holly’s husband, a member of the Berukhim Hasidim. Marjorie uncovers information about her past and Holly’s present as she does her research on the White Rebbe and the Angel of Losses.
There is a lot in this book and it is deep with meaning. It reminded me of something one might read for a college class. I feel like it is the kind of book that can be discussed – maybe a great one for a book group! It is not an easy read, but an interesting one for sure.