Because the Angels


Because the Angels–a novel about the Iraq War, faith, anime and vampires

Spike Darbyfield emotionally invests in only two things: her younger sister, Margie, and higher-end Japanese anime series. From others in her family, and from her colleagues, clientele, and most of humanity, Spike maintains an ironic or contemptuous detachment. When an Iraqi militant group kidnaps her sister while Margie is working for a human rights organization in Iraq, the crisis creates openings in the armor Spike built around her psyche over the years, allowing those who care about her to begin relating to her (and her to them) in different ways.

Author Kathleen Kern has worked as a human rights advocate with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) since 1993, serving on assignments in Haiti, Washington, DC, Palestine, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and with indigenous nations in the U.S. and Mexico. She has authored two histories of CPT– In Harm’s Way: A History of Christian Peacemaker Teams (Cascade 2009); As Resident Aliens: Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank, 1995-2005 (Cascade 2010)–and her work has appeared in Tikkun, The Christian Century, and The Baltimore Sun. Her first novel, Where Such Unmaking Reigns, was selected as a finalist for Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize.

Between 2005-2006, CPT weathered its own hostage crisis, when an Iraqi militant group kidnapped James Loney, Tom Fox, Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and subsequently murdered Fox. Some of Because the Angels reflects CPTers’ desperate and blind attempts to keep their colleagues alive, but it also reflects the sacrificial solidarity and affirmation the organization received from unexpected quarters and the grim humor that arose from dealing with absurd situations–including the chortling over the kidnappings by rightwing pundits.At the time of the kidnappings in 2005, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh referred to CPT’s work in Iraq as “cutting edge.”

Editorial Reviews


“Taking a page from her own life, author Kern … creates a ripped-from-the-headlines tale… she resists the temptation to pontificate or preach and instead moves the plot forward with solid storytelling…Despite the religious thread that runs throughout and the interesting use of anime as a coping mechanism, Kern keeps her storytelling balanced and on track.” Kirkus Reviews

“Smart, funny, heartfelt and quirky–Because the Angels is a well-told tale of love, risk and redemption.”  Leander Watts, Beautiful City of the Dead (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

“Kathleen Kern traverses themes and ideas that are startling in their contrast and masterfully weaves them together to create a novel that’s unique in its scope, while remaining a brisk and exciting read.  This is a book that I will long treasure.” Charles Sadnick, Beneath the Tangles (

Most Surprisingly Good Read of the Decade, April 22, 2013
“BtA wins the most surprisingly good read of the decade. Past the cover art and the anime obsession, the story is fraught with messy, intense, and endearing characters. What’s probably best about the book is the amazingly successful and comedic ending. Without being sappy, the author manages to weave a brilliant resolution to an engrossing tale.”  Davey Jones “D.R. Jones” Amazon Top Reviewer

What is a Y-factor?
From page 33:

“Y-factor” was what Spike called “inchoate yearning” and Margie called “yearniness.” (At the time they coined the term, Spike had thought that Margie might have the spectacular boobs—her own wedge-shaped flaps did not quite fill out a B-cup—but she, Spike, had the superior vocabulary.) “MUP” stood for Moment of Ultimate Pathos—the part of a story or series that is sadder than the actual scripted tragedy.

Margie, when explaining MUP, pointed to a scene in the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5, as a classic example. Buffy’s death—when she jumped into the shimmering border between this dimension and various hell dimensions in order to save both the world and her sister’s life—was not the MUP. The MUP happened several hours earlier, when she and her Scooby gang were preparing for battle with the demon goddess Glory, who was planning to use her sister’s blood to screw with the dimensions. Buffy knew that she or her sister would in all likelihood die. While she was waiting, she saved an idiot adolescent from a vampire in one of the series’ ubiquitous dark alleys. He asked, “How d’you do that?” and Buffy responded, “It’s what I do.” The boy then said, “But…you’re just a girl,” and Buffy, profoundly sad, said, “That’s what I keep saying.”

If some of the following have a Y-factor for you, then you might like Because the Angels:

• The works of Shinichirō Watanabe 渡辺 信一郎, and more specifically his series, Samurai Champlo and Cowboy Bebop. Spike, the main character in the novel and her friend Marcus are writing cut-above-lame fan fiction based on the characters from Samurai Champloo and after Spike’s sister Margie is kidnapped in Baghdad, their anxieties for her safety intrude into the narrative.
• The anime series Blood+ the last Vampire (the 50 episode series, not the movie), which follows tragic heroine Saya Otonashi and her faithful sidekick Hagi as she tries to undo the damage she did when she unleashed her evil twin Diva on the world in the 19th century. Saya is only awake for a few years every thirty years, so she loses most of the people she loves every time she goes to sleep. She is surrounded by friends and an adoptive family who are prepared to sacrifice everything (and many do) to prevent evil corporate interests from using her blood and Diva’s blood from creating creatures called Chiropterans to rule the world.
• The works of Joss Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly—all of which are mentioned in the novel. No one does a better job of combining humor and pathos.
• Complicated faith, and intersections of the sacred and secular worlds. Spike the main character in the novel is secular, but her sister, Margie is a devout Christian, and is working for a Christian human rights organization when she is kidnapped in Baghdad. The kidnapping is the catalyst for the reunion of Spike with her estranged father, Otto, who is a pastor with a rather rigid religious worldview. But he also is capable of great love, and tries hard to reconcile his belief with that love.

Comments are closed.