Sunday, April 7, 2013


Today, Yom Ha Shoah, I  honour the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and those of who died for their faith  in Iberia. The latter were also victims of what the scholarly Brazilian diplomat  Evaldo Cabral de Mello calls "genealogicide."That is, the forcible extinction of their  Jewish roots. To understand this numerically smaller, but no less devastating  Holocaust, I recommend BY FIRE, BY WATER,  by James Mitchell Kaplan. This carefully  researched and exquisitely written novel chronicles the events in the life of converso Luis  de Santangel, chancellor to the Spanish Crown prior to  the fall of Moorish  Granada.
Kaplan has a masterly touch with plot. Even though he bases his story on Iberian history, he keeps the reader guessing about its denouement. He moves his historical characters and fictional characters across the board of pre-Expulsion Spain with the grace and intelligence of a chess virtuoso. Resourceful silversmith Judith Migdal,  the frail Baba Shlomo, the de Santagel brothers,King  Fernando and Queen Isabella,  Cristopher Columbus, Chief Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada, come to life in his pages. Rapacity, blind faith, fear of the other, clashes between extremist Catholics and moderate, the economic and political undercurrents the led to the dispossession and exile of non-Catholics add a nearly palpable tension to the retelling of this compelling story.   On a day dedicated to the memory of those who must not be forgotten,  remembrance this is the book I choose to keep them in mind.

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