The Angel of Losses: A Novel

The Angel of Losses: A Novel

by Stephanie Feldman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062228918
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and her daughter.

Interviews

A Conversation with Stephanie Feldman, author of The Angel of Losses

Your novel's structure is unique in that it contains four whimsical short stories whose plot spans centuries and countries, surrounded by a modern story about two estranged sisters living in New York. Readers feel like they are opening up boxes within boxes as they move through the book. Why did you decide to write your novel in this fashion, and what inspired it?

My first inspiration was another book, a very old gothic novel called The Monk, which also features stories-within-stories. I like that structure, but more than that, I wanted to capture the experience of being immersed in a mysterious tale. When the novel opens, my narrator Marjorie finds a notebook that belonged to her late grandfather, Eli. It describes the first meeting between the Angel of Losses and a young Jewish runaway in 18th-century Venice, who goes on to become a great wizard known as the White Rebbe. Marjorie's hunt for the succeeding tales about the White Rebbe's life isn't just about discovering his fate and the angel's secret. It's also a personal search: the stories' provenance and meaning have something to teach her about her grandfather's past and her family's future.

Where did your research into the archetype of the Wandering Jew take you and what did it ultimately teach you?

I was fascinated by the Wandering Jew, who appears throughout centuries of European literature and legend. Despite his name, he's a Roman, a pagan who taunted Christ as he carried the cross and who is punished with immortality. The legend tends toward anti-Semitism, and I hated that this wonderful character is primarily informed by bigotry. I began researching Jewish folklore and history for analogues so I could write a new Wandering Jew.

I learned about mythic sorcerers, self-proclaimed messiahs, and scholars tracing the paths and limits of the Jewish Diaspora. What they all have in common is conviction; bravery that verges on recklessness; and a deep understanding of exile, both spiritual and geographical. I found myself examining the lengths people will go to for faith and love. The wanderers I discovered are rooted in Jewish tradition, but they embody something universal—a desire for redemption, in all senses of the word.

From graduate students to ancient Rabbis, and from young mothers to WWII survivors, your characters intersect in imaginative ways over place and time. Who were your favorite characters to write, and your favorite story lines? How did you get into the minds of these characters, some real and some imagined?

The majority of the novel is from Marjorie's point of view. She's the graduate student, estranged from her sister and in mourning for her grandfather, and obsessively studying ghost stories to hide from her pain. I loved writing in her voice, in part because she has strong opinions, but it took several drafts to disentangle the other characters from her feelings about them. I came to have a lot of affection for Nathan, Marjorie's brother-in-law. He's a member of a mystical sect, committed to a faith and lifestyle that's hard for outsiders to understand and respect, and on top of that, he appears aloof and self-involved. But as I wrote, I learned to see him differently. I appreciate his strength of purpose, and I'm sympathetic to his loneliness.

Eli (Marjorie's grandfather and author of the fairy tales she's searching for) is an enigma for most of the novel, so it was exciting when I finally got to write in his voice. I think it was most purely fun, though, to write the White Rebbe and Angel of Losses stories. I liked getting lost in a world where anything could happen, and where some fantastic figure or image could appear at any time.

It takes time to portray a character in three dimensions, but I slip into their heads pretty easily. Maybe in another life I would have been an actress.

How have your own life experiences shaped The Angel of Losses?

When I first began writing, I was focused on the White Rebbe and his battle with the Angel of Losses. But the more I wrote, the more the story's scope contracted to focus on Marjorie's family, and soon something else crept into my writing: a baby. I didn't have a baby, but soon Marjorie's sister, Holly, did. I wrote on and on about that baby—he's a tiny infant, but he possesses a weight mighty enough to knock Marjorie's family off its orbit and realign itself around him.

I wrote to explore the questions: How does a baby change your relationships, and change you? How can anyone risk loving something so vulnerable? This was all on my mind since I was on the cusp of starting a family of my own, and my daughter was born between draft six and draft seven. (Or maybe five and six?) When I returned to the novel, I had a much different perspective. I wrote about love, optimism, and the future as capable of transforming the past—however long, or however short—from something that haunts you to something that teaches you.

What writers and genres have influenced your writing?

I like lyrical prose and a good story, as well as literature that experiments with genre. I read pretty widely, but some of my favorites—whom I see reflected in this book—are Judy Budnitz, Sheri Holman, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson. I also love Manuel Puig, whose work combines an unflinching examination of society and relationships with a sense of romance.

What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

I want readers to enjoy the world of The Angel of Losses, its magic and mystery, but I also want them to see something familiar in the characters: Marjorie and Holly and Nathan and Eli, and the White Rebbe too. They're struggling with things we're all struggling with: family, belonging, loyalty, duty, when to sacrifice and when to walk away. I want readers to sympathize and argue with them. They're all good (if flawed) people who are bound to each other and trying to do the right thing, but have vastly different ideas of what the "right thing" is.

Who have you discovered lately?

This year, I fell hard for the essay collection Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan and the novel The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. I just finished Submergence by J.M. Ledgard and The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, two transporting novels that bring together the brutal and the beautiful. Just writing this makes me want to put my "to-read" list aside and go back to these books again.

Customer Reviews

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The Angel of Losses 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
M_Pentecost More than 1 year ago
This is a truly stunning book! Feldman manages to weave a complex plot that encompasses family drama, Jewish mysticism and folklore, and mystery, but it never felt like any of the various plot threads were given short shrift--everything tied together breathtakingly well. Since I'm not Jewish, I was initially concerned that I might be confused with all of the unfamiliar history and folklore, but luckily the narrator begins the book with the same level of knowledge as I had (enough to get by living in NYC, but nothing too in-depth), and I was able to learn along with her as the tale unfolded. The "book within a book" aspect was especially well done, and the stories from the notebooks belonging to Marjorie's grandfather really shine. One particular chapter actually had me in tears, and I am not someone who cries easily! Feldman does have high expectations for her readers--the plot is nonlinear and straddles many genres (magical realism, detective, family, history, fantasy, etc), but I appreciate the challenge. This book is a perfect candidate for rereading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exceptional work for a a first novel! I can't wait to read more from Stephanie Feldman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really thought I would like this book. However, I found very little to like in any of the characters. The concept of weaving Jewish myths in a modern research type mystery intrigued me. However, the myths, that were so relevant to the story seemed arduous to read and not compelling, they were too repetitive in nature. I did not enjoy the changing relationship between the sisters and found it so stereotypical that I had no interest in learning any more about the character Holly and her relationships with anyone. She came across as incredibly shallow and although the author tried to add dimension to her it did not work. Unfortunately, there was very little about the actual execution of this book that I enjoyed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderful story within a story, and richly written novel. This is amazing writing from a first time author with warmth, intrigue and insight. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was beautifully written, and a page turner. I couldn't put it down! 
SunMtnReviews More than 1 year ago
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. 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 we ever fully escape our 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 magic and mystery, consider reading this imaginative retelling of the Wandering Jew. Source: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author to provide an honest review. (Rating 3.5 stars)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful introduction from debut author Feldman! I really liked this book! Very well written, and kept me thoroughly absorbed. Really interesting characters and a plot line that i have not seen before! Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bbest Magical Realism Ive ever read! Stories wrapped within a world of love and family history!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really like this book, i have learned a lot. I was raised to respect and to treat the Jewish people in my hometown as a child. There were 2 jewish ladies whom ate at 5 & dime store .They had the number tattoos on their arms below the elbow. I was told not to look at the tattoos or ask about them. This book is well written. I could almost make out the faces of the characters in the story. I hope the author writes more with the female lead characters.
RGS1 More than 1 year ago
This is a complex and extremely well written novel. It is a multi-layered story with richly developed characters and intricate subplots that are beautifully woven together. The result is a great book that will touch your heart and entertain you and leave you wanting more from this talented new author. Miss Feldman knocks it out of the park with her first novel.
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