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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
Publisher: Other Press; May 18, 2010
Type of Book: Historical Fiction
Subject Matter: Spanish Inquisition
List Price: $15.95 
ISBN-10: 1590513525
By Fire, By Water
From Other Press website:
Luis de Santangel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomas de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend's demise brings the violence close to home, Santangel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santangel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he'd lost...the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santangel can help him.
Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

My Review:
Kaplan's purpose in this book was to tell the story about a society destroying itself due to intolerance, prior to the discovery of a New World. To bring this point across, Kaplan uses Luis de Santangel, a converso and royal chancellor of Aragon and Judith Midgal, aunt of Columbus' official translator Luis de Torres. Santangel witnesses first hand the destruction that the Inquisition brings with the death of his brother. Unfortunately he becomes a suspect in the murder of the Chief Inquisitor of Zaragoza. With the King's help he is freed. Judith loses her brother and his wife. Because of this she must learn to support herself and her nephew which is extremely hard for a Jew, especially a woman. During the rise of the Spanish Inquisition, Christopher Columbus continues to petition the crown to fund his exploration of the New World. Santangel is key in this because of his relationship with the King. Kaplan uses these characters to show the strength, perseverance and courage needed to survive such turbulent times.

To accurately depict this time in history, Kaplan studied paintings, medieval books, manuscripts and spoke with specialists. He traveled to Spain and all over Europe. This dedicated research is shown throughout the book. The descriptions of places and people are vivid and real. You feel the love, hate, fear, paranoia, and sadness. It was like an emotional roller coaster that I couldn't get off!!

My Thoughts:
This book has really opened my eyes to the persecution of Jews during the 15th century in Spain. I did not know much about the Inquisition before but now I am eager to learn more. The story moves quickly and you get caught up in it! The devastation that the Inquisition brought to these families is just unbelievable and the methods of torture used is just horrifying! This book is incredibly well written and I cannot wait to see what Kaplan will be publishing next!

My Rating:
4 out of 5 stars
This book was compliments of the author. It has in no way influenced my review. My opinions are my own.

For more about Mitchell James Kaplan, please visit his website:

Also be looking for my upcoming interview with Mitchell James Kaplan 


Unknown said...

Thank you for the book review. I'm glad you enjoyed the story and that it opened your eyes.

These types of books are one's that it would take to want to read. By nature I'm more of an escapist when I read, and into the fun worlds, if they are dark they have love in them :)

Great blog, nice to find a fellow book lover ;)

Jenny Q said...

I really want to read this book! I haven't seen a negative review yet. Thanks for sharing!

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