by Fred P. Gusoff
The first time might be the charm for Stephanie Feldman.
The Fort Washington resident and stay-at-home mom, whose in-laws are longtime residents of Chestnut Hill, is watching five years of research and writing come to fruition. Her first book, “The Angel of Losses,” just published in July, hit bookstore shelves and e-book menus last week, and Feldman has high hopes.
Feldman’s maiden voyage in the wonderful world of publishing is described in promotional material as an inventive, lushly imagined debut novel that explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between estranged sisters and the relationship with their grandfather, Eli Burke. After the grandfather’s death, one sister, Marjorie, finds a notebook in which he had written about a magical figure named The White Rebbe, and she explores the past.
The Fort Washington mom has written: “Storytelling-as-history is a powerful idea, one that I returned to while writing ‘The Angel of Losses,’ but it’s not an easy answer. As a Jewish person living after the Holocaust, I’m not persuaded that legend can entirely compensate for lost history. Sometimes, though, the legends are all that’s left, and Jews are particularly ready to find meaning in them. I don’t know if my great-grandfather was nearly drafted into the Russian army, but his tale was, at least, a kind of truth; a part of his history, and mine.”
Feldman said she was inspired by Gothic novels and immersed herself in Jewish folktales and legends during her research for the book, a process she described as “fun” and a “challenge.”
Feldman, 31, grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, where she lived until she was 18. She studied writing at the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, a five-week summer series for gifted high school students, and Barnard College in New York City, where she majored in English literature.
The author-to-be lived in New York for a decade before returning to the Philly area with her husband, Jonathan Treitel, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended the John S. Jenks School. His parents still live in Chestnut Hill.
“You can see them walking up Germantown Avenue on nice days,” Feldman said.
The first-time author and her husband have a 3-year-old daughter, Ramona. They have lived in Fort Washington for one year. Feldman said she most enjoyed doing the research for “Angels,” coming up with new ideas and new directions for the book.
The book was worth every minute of it, she said, but it did require considerable discipline. “It’s 280 pages in print. That’s a lot of sentences to get right,” said Feldman, who has another book in the planning stages. “It’s a challenge to write a novel, and I went through seven or eight drafts.”
“The Angel of Losses” is published by Ecco/Harper Collins. The hardcover version costs $25.99; e-book is $12.99. A paperback version is due out next year. The book has received unanimously rave reviews. Here are just a few:
•“Stephanie Feldman writes with tremendous warmth, tenderness and insight, and ‘The Angel of Losses’ is a smart and beautiful novel that is all at once a literary thriller, a multigenerational family saga and a stunning exploration of Jewish mysticism. I loved this book.”—Molly Antopol, of the National Book Foundation.
•“Feldman’s debut novel is an unusual combination of literary thriller, family drama and Jewish mysticism . . . Fans of Elizabeth Kostova’s ‘The Historian’ or the works of Lev Grossman will find something here in a similar vein, but with a little quieter pacing and a little more spirituality.”—Library Journal
•“This impressive debut from Feldman is a page-turner that celebrates sisterly love.”—Publishers Weekly
•“This book was amazing. The protagonist, a grad student in literature, uncovers a story scribbled down by her grandfather, and everything starts to unravel. Jewish folklore. Family secrets. Hidden identities. Hidden notebooks. Bitter estrangements. It’s beautifully constructed and just plain beautiful. Mark your calendars now, people. Mark them now. ”—Bookriot
Upcoming book-signing events in the area include: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 7 p.m., at the Center City Barnes & Noble, 1805 Walnut St.; Sunday, Aug. 24, 1 p.m., in Northeast Philadelphia at the Holocaust Awareness Museum, Room 218, at the Klein JCC, Red Lion Road and Jamison Avenue.
For more information, visit www.stephaniefeldman.com.