Review of When the Angels Left the Old Country

When the Angels Left the Old Country
by Sacha Lamb
High School    Levine Querido    408 pp.
10/22    9781646141760    $19.99

In this expansive queer tale that marries historical fiction with inventive world-building based on Jewish folklore, a demon called Little Ash (short for Ashmedai) and an angel who takes on different names but is eventually known as Uriel set off from Shtetl, a tiny village in the Pale of Settlement, to the U.S., as many young people are doing around the same time (cued as the early twentieth century). Their ostensible mission is to find one of these young people, whom no one has heard from; their party also accumulates the soul of a murdered rabbi, who needs someone to inform his daughter of his death so she can say Kaddish for him and prevent him from becoming a dybbuk. On a parallel immigration journey is Rose, a sixteen-year-old girl who can’t understand why she’s so upset with her best friend, Dinah, for having married a man. The story’s many threads eventually converge around a labor dispute, and the witty, cerebral omniscient storytelling, steeped in Jewish detail, rewards attentive readers. It’s a particular joy to observe the human and supernatural characters come to understand themselves and their relationships. A ­glossary defines Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic, and some English terms.

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees, and is serving on the 2025 Walter Dean Myers Award committee.

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