Northeast Times

Unlocking a mystery

Turn the page: Au­thor Stephanie Feld­man holds a copy of her first nov­el, The An­gel of Losses, in her Fort Wash­ing­ton home. Ecco, a Har­per­Collins im­print, is re­leas­ing the book on Ju­ly 29. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

There’s a lot go­ing on in The An­gel of Losses, Somer­ton nat­ive Stephanie Feld­man’s first nov­el. There are mys­ter­ies with­in mys­ter­ies, stor­ies with­in stor­ies, his­tory, myth­o­logy and dis­cov­ery.

“It’s also a fam­ily story,” Feld­man said dur­ing a Ju­ly 16 in­ter­view. The book’s main char­ac­ter, Mar­jor­ie, was es­tranged from her sis­ter, who had con­ver­ted to Or­tho­dox Juda­ism, and learns to come to terms with their re­la­tion­ship. 

Then, there are the mys­ter­i­ous White Rebbe and the An­gel of Losses. It is the title char­ac­ter, said Feld­man, who “is the fig­ure who presides over the whole story.”

These two are the char­ac­ters in Jew­ish fables whom Mar­jor­ie stud­ies as she tries to un­lock the mys­tery of her be­loved Grandpa, who was not the man she al­ways had be­lieved he was. The nov­el be­gins first with one of her grand­fath­er’s stor­ies and then with the dis­cov­ery of one of his note­books. Her ideas about him — and his stor­ies — be­gin to change. As she tries to fig­ure out her Grandpa’s en­ig­mat­ic life, she finds oth­er mys­ter­ies to solve.

By The An­gel’s end, the au­thor prom­ised with a smile, “All will be re­vealed.”

Ecco, a Har­per­Collins im­print, is re­leas­ing the book on Ju­ly 29, and it will be avail­able for on­line or­ders and will be a fea­tured se­lec­tion from Au­gust through Novem­ber at Barnes & Noble stores.

That’s a pretty good score for a new au­thor. 

It wasn’t easy, she said. Feld­man and her agent worked on re­vi­sions be­fore fa­cing the chal­lenge of shop­ping the book to pub­lish­ing houses. 

“You have to find someone who con­nects with the ma­ter­i­al,” she said. “No ed­it­or buys a book un­less they’re in love with it. They’re tak­ing on a risk.”

Still, that might have been easi­er than what happened next — be­ing ed­ited.

She was told to cut 10,000 words from The An­gel.

Every com­ment from an ed­it­or “was a prob­lem that needed to be fixed,” she said. “It was pain­ful, but it was for the best.” 

NORTH­EAST RAISED

Feld­man was brought up in Somer­ton — Helene Place, off Tom­lin­son. She at­ten­ded Loes­che Ele­ment­ary School on Bustleton Av­en­ue and Mas­ter­man High School in Cen­ter City. She at­ten­ded Barn­ard Col­lege in New York. She met her hus­band, Jonath­an Treit­el, in the city, where the two lived be­fore buy­ing a home in Fort Wash­ing­ton, Mont­gomery County, about a year ago. The couple has a daugh­ter, Ra­mona.

Some­times, her home, in a quiet tree-filled neigh­bor­hood, was just the right place to write, Feld­man said. Some­times, the best spot was a cof­fee shop, where the am­bi­ent noise “forces a fo­cus.” In­take has a value, too. “Caf­feine gets me through … and chocol­ate … per­fect for a writer,” she said.

Feld­man, who “likes the blurry line between his­tory and le­gend,” said her book was in­spired by old goth­ic nov­els. She did a lot of re­search on Jew­ish ideas about an­gels. Those no­tions are dif­fer­ent in Jew­ish so­ci­et­ies all over the world, she said. “That’s great for a writer,” she said, be­cause she gets to pick what she wants.

“I read about Jew­ish folk­lore … and I pulled ref­er­ences from a num­ber of stor­ies,” she said. “Part of the mys­tery is fig­ur­ing out what these fables mean.”

Mu­sic played an im­port­ant part in writ­ing the book, Feld­man said. She said she listened to a lot of pop, “es­pe­cially something with a good beat.” Genre changed, she said, as she was writ­ing the con­clud­ing chapters. 

“I listened to a lot of rap while fin­ish­ing up the book,” she said. “That might sur­prise people, giv­en the book’s ser­i­ous­ness and tone.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Feld­man has two oth­er com­pleted books “sit­ting in a draw­er,” and that’s where they’re go­ing to stay, she said. She is work­ing on something new, but feels hes­it­ant to talk about the book oth­er than, “It brings ma­gic and his­tory to­geth­er.”

For now, Feld­man is pro­mot­ing The An­gel of Losses with read­ings and book sign­ings, one of which will be in the North­east. She’ll be at the Holo­caust Aware­ness Mu­seum, 10100 Jam­is­on Ave., Room 218, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. Call 215-464-4701 for in­form­a­tion. ••

For more in­form­a­tion about The An­gel of Losses and Stephanie Feld­man, vis­it stephaniefeld­man.com/thebook

Ex­cerpt

“I ima­gine the events of those months like a Chagall, like the pic­ture Holly was paint­ing while her baby slept in­side her, the men float­ing amid stars on a deep-blue vor­tex. Grandpa ap­pears in the dis­tance after two days of wan­der­ing, a little old man be­neath seagulls and bill­boards. I spend nights in the lib­rary, search­ing for a book that will ex­plain ghosts to me. Holly and Nath­an watch each oth­er across a fold­ing table piled with mis­matched plates of food, in a cramped dorm­it­ory kit­chen sus­pen­ded above Man­hat­tan. The bay gains on Coney Is­land, Hebrew and Yid­dish voices circle my sis­ter, ob­scure but com­fort­ing, a quilt of un­read­able sym­bols.”

Stephanie Feld­man

The An­gel of Losses

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus