A Time of Angels is the story of two friends – Primo and Pasquale.
Primo is a professional magician and soothsayer. His inborn gift of clairvoyance was strong that he was able to predict his own mother’s death while still in her womb. Now he reads the futures of the local Long Street community of Italians and Jews, and they pay him in money, honey cake, tiramisu and other delicacies.
Pasquale is the owner of a bar and delicatessen favoured by local businessmen and gamblers alike. He was taught to cook by his father, another Holocaust survivor and now his culinary reputation is second to none.
Both men were raised by fathers, one a watchmaker and one a cook, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
The pair’s friendship is disturbed by a woman, Beatrice. She was Pasquale’s girlfriend but she becomes Primo’s wife. When she leaves her husband and returns to her old love, Primo is thrown into despair. He casts spells to spoil Pasquale’s creations and to win back Beatrice, but his spells have consequences that he did not expect.
There are a lot of good things to be said about this book. The prose is lush, there is a wonderful mix of elements and the stories of both men and their fathers are cleverly mixed and told.
There were flaws. I was uncomfortable though with the mix of painful history with flights of fantasy and it seemed that sometimes emotions were lost among the constant references to wonderful food and beautiful things.
Ultimately though, A Time of Angels is a wonderfully entertaining piece of magical realism, and I think that one day, if she can get her recipe right, Patricia Schonstein has the talent to create something really special.