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.
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The Angel of Losses is a beautiful and unique mix of history, Jewish folklore and family. I was originally interested in this book because I am familiar with the story of the Wandering Jew. This story ended up being so much more. Right from the beginning Grandfather Eli tells his young granddaughters, Marjorie and Holly a beautiful but dark tale with no ending; I was hooked after that.
Years later, Eli has passed on, but his stories about the mysterious White Rebbe have stuck with Marjorie. She knows there is more to learn from him, if only she could find all the notebooks that his stories were written down in. Along with her grandfather's stories, Marjorie is hard at work on a thesis project that might be connected. Holly, the younger sister is married to Nathan, pregnant and converted to his religion, Judaism. Marjorie and Nathan have never gotten along, causing a fallout between the sisters. Once Holly's baby is born with a rare genetic disorder, Marjorie must find out what her grandfather had hidden for so long in order to save the baby and bring her family back together.
My favorite parts of the book were Eli's stories. These folktales were intriguing and elegantly written combining known folklore with Eli's character's own history and a bit of magical realism. The way the stories were revealed throughout the book, slowly and not in order, made the reveal and their meaning all the more interesting. Marjorie's character was the best for me. She is by no means perfect in the beginning, but extremely easy to relate to. It is her journey to discovery that enables her to grow and eventually bring her family together.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and her daughter.