The Angel of Losses: A Novel, by Stephanie Feldman, (Ecco), 277 pages
Flat out truth: Stephanie Feldman’s The Angel of Losses is a marvel of a book, a put-on-your-stranded-on-a-deserted-island-list book. It’s thoroughly its own creature, but if I were choosing comparable titles, they’d be some of the best novels of the last few decades: Lawrence Thornton’s Imagining Argentina, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.
The Angel of Losses, set in present-day New York and New Jersey, is narrated by Marjorie Burke, a doctoral candidate writing a dissertation on the character of the wandering Jew. Marjorie is pulled from the world of the scholarly to the fantastic when she discovers handwritten versions of the White Magician stories her grandfather told when she was a child. These alternate versions, featuring the White Rebbe, are found in journals he left behind at the time of his death—journals he’d wanted destroyed.
The novel uses and builds upon Jewish folklore. The White Rebbe is a wandering Jew character, one who’s made a compact with a now-fallen angel, Yode’a. The pact gives the White Rebbe great powers, but comes at a steep price. This price and its transmission from one generation to the next become Marjorie’s focus as she tries to understand both changes in her present-day family and events from her grandfather’s past.
The Angel of Losses moves effortlessly from present to past, from “real” narrative to the White Rebbe folktales and their variations. Its scope is broad, covering centuries and grappling with questions of faith, destiny, and free will; at the same time, it offers human details, the sort that keep the characters vivid and engaging, even within the larger context.
For any lover of fiction that probes human nature, for any lover of folklore, for any lover of magical realism, for any lover of fast-paced adventure, The Angel of Losses will provide an exceptional read. This is a book to buy now, while it’s out in hardback, and to buy in multiples for gifting to like-minded readers.