When the Angels Left the Old Country
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that When the Angels Left the Old Country is the first novel of Sasha Lamb, who describes its basic concept as "the classic Yiddish novel, but it's queer." Steeped in 19th century Jewish culture, it's the tale of an angel (genderless) and a demon (male) who've been friends and argued about Talmud for centuries in an obscure shtetl in Poland, when they find themselves off to America to rescue the daughter of the village baker, who hasn't been heard from since she left for New York. There's lots of violence, supernatural and otherwise, including soul-stealing (by extracting the soul through the eyeballs), hauntings, creepy-crawly sins, shootings, torched buildings, beatings by goons, and more. Two teen girls fall in love and eventually kiss. Meanwhile, the labor movement is growing as factory workers stand up for themselves, and there's a lot of you-are-there history. There's a strong moral compass and hard-earned wisdom as the angel's efforts to do good and keep his friend out of trouble take them to a lot of unexpected places -- including becoming more human in ways they didn't really plan. The narrative includes a lot of Yiddish and Hebrew words and expressions, and a large glossary sheds light on them.
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What's the Story?
WHEN THE ANGELS LEFT THE OLD COUNTRY is the tale of Little Ash, a demon, and his best friend, an angel whose name changes according to the need of the moment. For centuries now, they've spent most of their time arguing about the Talmud in a quiet corner of the shul (synagogue) in Shtetl, a Jewish village in Poland that's so small it has no other name, as village life goes on around them. Little Ash looks for opportunities to make trouble, and his friend tries to keep him out of it. But when Samuel the Baker starts fretting that his teen daughter Essie hasn't been heard from since she left many months ago for New York, Little Ash sees a whole lot of troublemaking opportunities. He tries to persuade his angelic and genderless friend that it would be a real mitzvah (good deed) to go rescue Essie. The angel sees right through this, as they've been close for centuries, but it's his job to keep Little Ash out of trouble, so they are soon disguised as two 16-year-old Hasidic boys -- though Ash has chicken feet and the angel has cloven hooves -- and off on their quest. Meanwhile in a nearby village, 16-year-old Rose Cohen, feeling betrayed and replaced because her best friend is getting married, is also off to America. Their paths, and a lot of other people, will soon converge in steerage. Meanwhile, ghosts look for people to haunt, demons steal and devour souls, and things go very badly for a murderer who shoots the angel, while an increasingly powerful labor movement emerges in New York's factories.
Is It Any Good?
Sacha Lamb's stunning first novel is an imaginative, emotional, thought-provoking study of good and evil, being human, and the unexpected miracles of love. Steeped in 19th century Jewish culture, When the Angels Left the Old Country is the tale of two supernatural best friends, an angel and a demon, whose bond is strong despite the fact they've never agreed about anything. It's also the story of 16-year-old Rose fleeing her best friend's betrayal, how their paths cross en route to America, what they find when they get there, and what they do about it. Ghosts, demons, murderers, thieves, cruel factory owners, and Ellis Island are just a few of the perils they face along the way. Packed with Yiddish and Hebrew expressions (defined in a glossary) and phrasings, the narrative voice is unique, immersive, and irresistible.
Here, in the first of many events that make the angel wonder what it's gotten itself into, Little Ash has just extracted and devoured the soul of a murderer who foolishly tried to kill the angel.
"The angel hesitated a moment. 'I suppose someone ought to watch over his body,' it said, thinking of the Law, and of tradition.
"'Why?' said Little Ash, not unreasonably. "The demons already got him. Come on, you. We should be gone already. Unless you want I should eat the police?'"
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about stories that involve 19th century immigrants to the United States and their experiences in those historic times. Do tales like When the Angels Left the Old Country -- which add an element of the supernatural -- give you a new understanding of what things were like in those times, and what was important to people as they went about their lives?
Are you already familiar with the Yiddish and Hebrew expressions that author Sacha Lamb uses, or did you find the glossary really helpful?
Have you ever set off to accomplish an important goal (like our heroes do here), only to find not just the obstacles you were expecting but also quite a few that seemed to come out of nowhere? How did it go? What did you do?
- Author: Sacha Lamb
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Activism, Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Humility, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Levine Querido
- Publication date: October 18, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: February 10, 2023
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