The Angel of Losses

Ecco  2014

 

This debut novel is filled with magic, faith, love, rejection, loyalty, family, secrecy, loss, and adventure.

Set in the present, it tells the story of two sisters, Marjorie and Holly—who were raised without religious affiliation—and their close connection to their grandfather, Eli Burke, who told them bedtime stories about the White Rebbe and the Sabbath Light. Eli never spoke of his childhood, but when he dies an old man appears to Marjorie at the funeral and visits her many times. He knows Eli from long ago and claims everything Eli told her is a lie.

Marjorie is working on her Ph.D. disserta¬≠tion on “the Wandering Jew,” a myth about one who taunted Jesus carrying the cross and was punished with immortality. During her research at the university library Marjorie meets Simon, who is interested in her topic and begins to help Marjorie find sources. Their relationship grows romantically but Marjorie holds back from telling him everything about the dark world in which she is immersed.

Meanwhile, Holly reclaims her Judaism and becomes religiously observant, marries a man named Nathan, and moves into her parents’ home. Nathan is a disciple of the secretive Berukhim Penitents, a group that follows a rabbi who died in the seventeenth century, believes in reincarnation, perform midnight rituals, and searches for the Lost Tribes. He spends all his time immersed in mystical study. Holly’s family disapproves of her marriage and the sisters’ relationship suffers. When Nathan moves Eli’s belongings to the basement in order to make room for the new baby, Marjorie comes in to search for connection between her grandfather’s stories and Nathan’s religious group. She finds one of her grandfather’s notebooks which he had wanted to be destroyed upon his death.

Holly gives birth to a boy who is named Eli after the grandfather. The baby is the center of the family’s world and becomes even more so when he is afflicted by seizures. Marjorie and Nathan each believe they can find the key to reversing the baby’s illness.

This story was difficult to follow but reward¬≠ing to read, reminiscent of Dara Horn’s and Nicole Krauss’s works.

Read Stephanie Feldman's Posts for the Visiting Scribe


My Favorite Wandering Jews

Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Interview

Read Elise Cooper's interview with Stephanie Feldman here.

Discussion Questions 

Courtesy of Ecco

  1. Who is the white magician introduced in the beginning of the novel? Why does Eli tell his granddaughters, Marjorie and Holly, the story of the white magician when they are children? How does this story influence the course of their lives?

  2. Describe Marjorie's relationship with her grandfather and with her sister, Holly. How do both change as the girls grow up?

  3. Why do you think Eli wanted his notebooks burned after his death? What drives Marjorie to pursue her grandfather's notebooks? Why did he never share his story with his family when he was alive? As Marjorie discovers each story that he wrote, what does she learn about Eli, her family, and herself? How does the knowledge transform her?

  4. Do you understand the decisions he made in his youth? What is his ultimate legacy to his granddaughters, especially Marjorie? Can we ever run away from our past or change our heritage?

  5. What is the Angel of Losses? How does discovering the story of the White Rebbe and the Angel impact the decisions Marjorie eventually makes? Before he dies, her grandfather warns her, "he's coming for me. Then he's coming for you." What does this cryptic message mean?

  6. Talk about Holly and Nathan’s marriage. What drew Holly to Nathan? Could you change your whole life as she did for love? Are they happy together? When can faith evolve into a cult? Why does Marjorie mistrust religion? Does her skepticism change by the story's end?

  7. What is Marjorie's opinion of Nathan? Why doesn’t she approve of her sister’s new life? What do you think of Nathan? Is he devout or crazed? Do you think he and Marjorie are opposites, or more alike than they realize?

  8. How does meeting Simon impact Marjorie? Why won't she trust him with her dreams, with the story of her grandfather and his mystical tales and their connection to her sister, Nathan, and the new baby?

  9. Was Marjorie responsible for her nephew's illness? Does she heal him? If so, how? What is the cost of healing him?

  10. What role do folktales and fairy tales play in culture? What do they teach us about ourselves?

  11. What do you think happens to Marjorie and Holly after the novel is done? Do you think Marjorie can end the family legacy?

  12. Before you read the novel were you familiar with the tale of the Wandering Jew? What did you think of this retelling? What did you take away from reading The Angel of Losses?

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