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The Angel of Forgetfulness
Synopses & Reviews
When Steve Stern appeared on the literary scene The New York Times Books Review hailed him as a prodigiously talented writer who arrives unheralded like one of the apparitions in his own stories. In his new novel, The Angel of Forgetfulness, he interweaves three stories about characters who take flight from their ordinary lives and are plunged into extraordinary circumstances. At the center of it all is an unfinished manuscript — an adventure about a fallen angel named Mocky and his half-mortal son Nachman, who both take up residence on the Lower East Side on New York circa 1900. Their story has been written by Nathan Hart, a timid proofreader for The Jewish Daily Forward, who woos a young woman named keni with his exotic tale. Seduced by the power of his own imagination. Nathan is drawn deliriously away from Keni into the world of his story, the Jewish underworld of arsonists, horse poisoners, and thieves.
More than half a century later, Keni on her deathbed, gives Nathan's now-tattered manuscript to her young nephew. Saul, with the injunction that Saul complete the story himself. Saul's evasion of the task prompts a journey into the crucible of the sixties, one fueled by sex, drugs, and the dust of a golem in the attic of a medieval synagogue in Prague. Dexterously Juggling the narratives of Saul, Nathan, Mocky, and Nachman until they all merge in the novel's satisfying close, Stern has created a magical tour de force of the storyteller's art, one that celebrates the turbulent romance between past and present, art and obsession.
"Heaven and earth engage in a tug of war over the Jewish soul in this sprawling historical bildungsroman. Stern (The Wedding Jester) combines three distinct but interlinked narratives. The first tells the story of Nathan Hart, a Jewish immigrant on the Lower East Side circa 1910 who woos young Jewish bohemian Keni by telling her the second narrative-a tale about an angel named Mocky and his half-human son, Nachman, both of them also living on the Lower East Side in self-imposed exile from heaven. The third narrative belongs to Keni's nephew Saul, a morose, lonely young man who embarks on an odyssey through the post-Vietnam sexual and psychedelic revolutions that takes him to a hippie commune and an avant-garde theater troupe before he settles down as a hermetic Jewish-studies scholar. The many intersections between the stories of Nathan, Mocky, Nachman and Saul suggest the timelessness of a certain Jewish variant of male alienation, as the protagonists struggle-and usually fail-to assimilate and find themselves torn between the carnal and the spiritual. The novel's greatest strength is its colorful depiction of life in a turn-of-the-century Jewish New York full of gangsters, whores, shopkeepers, socialists, artists and yellow journalists, which Stern renders with a piquant Yiddish inflection and a light dusting of magical realism. Somewhat out of place is the story of Saul, a Portnoy-esque figure desperate to lose his virginity, both obsessed with and repelled by the countercultural sexual carnival whirling around him. Stern serves up vivid characters and atmospherics and an often poetic picaresque, but never integrates the novel's complex structure into a satisfying whole." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"From beginning to end, Steve Stern's impressive novel hovers, effortlessly and perfectly balanced, between laughter and tears, earth and heaven." Washington Post
"Stern's narrative highstakesmanship and comic gifts combine in a powerful evocation of a lost time." New York Times
"Like his literary ancestors, he dares to write serious literature driven by average folk, people who are funny and vulnerable and just happen to be natural philosophers." Los Angeles Times
This time-defying odyssey from the 1960s to the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century features a detour through heaven on the wings of a derelict angel.
About the Author
Steve Stern is the author of several short story collections, including The Wedding Jester (winner of the National Jewish Book Award), Isaac and the Undertaker?s Daughter (winner of a Pushcart Writer?s Choice Award and an O. Henry Prize), and Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven (winner of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American fiction). He has also written three novels and two books for children. He teaches creative writing at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.
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