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.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Ecco (July 29, 2014)
Publisher: Ecco (July 29, 2014)
I grew up without a strong cultural or religious identity so I have fascination for stories or books that give me a glimpse into a these worlds. The Angel of Losses is steeped in religion, history and Jewish culture and moves back and forth between current day and the past. The book starts with a grandfather telling a story to his granddaughters about the White Magician--a story that results in nightmares for Holly, the younger sister, and frustrates Marjorie, the older one. Forward to current day, a grownup Marjorie is earning her PhD and writing her dissertation on The Wandering Jew, a traveling sorcerer. Holly has married, converted to Orthodox Judiasm and is heavily pregnant. The once close sisters are now vastly different and have grown apart. When Marjorie comes across one of her grandfathers notebooks with a story of the White Magician, or White Rebbe, she becomes obsessed with finding the rest of his notebooks, uncovering her grandfather's and her family's secrets and helping her sister and repairing their relationship.
This book is not what I would call an easy read--it takes some time to dive in and some effort to keep all of the details straight. I had a slow start with it because I tend to do the bulk of my reading at night before going to sleep and I have had a crazy few weeks where I have been mentally exhausted writing a workshop and prepping for a trip next week to facilitate it. A sleepy Deb and this book were not a good match--I kept getting confused on what was past, what was present, what was real, what was a story, a fantasy, or a dream, and even who all of the characters were. When I finally got my materials turned in this past weekend and could focus (and sleep), I found myself totally absorbed in the story. It still made me scratch my head a few times but the stories that Eli told were beautiful and the relationship between Marjorie and Holly seemed very real. A book to sink deeply into if you like folklore, religion, cultural heritage and family dramas.
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and her daughter.
You can connect with her on her website.
In looking for a dish to represent the book, I actually went to a dish I having been wanting to make ever since seeing Ruth Reichel's recipe for it. Matzo Brei (which translates to 'fried matzah'), doesn't have much to do with the story--other than being a Jewish comfort food dish, although Grandpa Eli did take Marjorie and Holly out for breakfast regularly when they were young, and there were a few mentions of eggs in the story. But, when Ruth Reichel calls something "one of life's perfect foods"--you know you should give it a try.
Ruth Reichl's Matzo Brei
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2004 via epicurious.com
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I reduced slightly)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter (I reduced to about 1/2)
(I added freshly ground black pepper)
Crumble matzos into a large sieve placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold sieve under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened but not completely disintegrated, about 15 seconds. Transfer to bowl with crumbs, then add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork.
Heat butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add matzo mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are scrambled and matzo has begun to crisp, about 3 minutes.
Notes/Results: Simple but pretty darn tasty, I can see matzoh brei becoming a regular thing on my breakfast rotation--at least until the box of maztoh is gone. ;-) I really liked the chewy/crispy pieces of matzoh in the scrambled eggs. Reading the reviews for Reichel's matzoh brei online, there are many variations of preparation and family recipes with additions like onion, apples, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, etc. For me, black pepper is a must with eggs but I liked this simple version--not sure if a sweeter variation would appeal to me. I made two servings and halved the butter and reduced the salt--as no one 'needs' that much butter and sodium. ;-) I might not classify it as one of life's perfect foods but certainly a good one.
Note: A review copy of "The Angel of Losses" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
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