South of Sepharad by Eric Weintraub: 4****

1492 a year that many of us know a lot about. For instance that’s the year that Lorenzo de Medici died in Florence. It’s also the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue to quote discover and quote America. It was the year that Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella consolidated their conquest of Spain by overrunning Granada which led to the expulsion of the Moors. But few of us know that it was also in 1492 that those same rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews from Spain, a location where they had lived for over 1500 years. It’s that expulsion, as well as the ensuing difficulties, that first time author eric Weintraub features in historical fiction novel, South of Sepharad. Weintraub captures the shock, horror and dismay of the Jewish community as seen through the eyes of physician Vidal ha-Rofeh, and his family. It is through their eyes that we see the results of the expulsion, as the Jewish population was given three months a free passage to leave the country, and that failure to leave or convert to Catholicism would result in death. Vidal realizes that his future is tied to that of his faith and refuses to convert to Catholicism, even though his oldest daughter has already converted to Catholicism years previously when she married a Catholic gentleman. The family is split, should they stay in Granada or should they leave with the rabbi who is taking them to the coast of Spain to eventually make their way to fez which is in Morocco. Vidal will beg his daughter, Catalina, to come with them but she refuses and stays with her husband especially since she is now pregnant with their child. This is a journey that the members of the Jewish community must take from Granada to Malaga Spain where they will hopefully find transport to North Africa. Eventually a caravan of about 200 people set out across the dry and parched area and the caravan is beset by all sorts of mishaps the least of which is they’ve run out of water. Forced to sell all their possessions while in Granada, for pennies on the dollar, the caravan struggles to make it to the coast and when it does the struggles continue. Meanwhile Catalina gives birth to a baby boy but also has the legitimacy of her conversion questioned by the priests in the inquisition. It was a bad time for anyone who used to be a Jew living in Spain and we get to see all the difficulties that Vidal and his family suffered through as they attempt to make it to the sea and hopefully define freedom to live, work and worship in fez. This is a very fine first time novel which has well drafted characters, a plot that comes directly from history and expands our knowledge as to the horrors that anyone who was not a Catholic would face if they lived in Spain once Ferdinand and Isabella consolidated their power. This book is not so much about religion as it is about suffering and attempting to overcome adversity. I highly recommend this book to fans of fiction, historical fiction, and history and makes me eagerly await the next novel from this gifted writer.

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