The Angel of Losses

By – April 30, 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. disserta­tion 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 reward­ing to read, rem­i­nis­cent of Dara Horn’s and Nicole Krauss’s works.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Ecco

  • 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?

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

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

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

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

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

  • 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?