Freedom beyond the Sea

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Fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a Jewish girl disguises herself and signs on as a ship’s boy, little knowing that she is headed for unknown waters with Christopher Columbus.

In Spain at the end of the 15th century, Jews are persecuted, robbed, expelled from their homes, and murdered. Esther, the daughter of the rabbi of Cordoba, flees from home dressed as a boy. She is the only one in her family who escapes the bloodhounds of the Inquisition.

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Fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a Jewish girl disguises herself and signs on as a ship’s boy, little knowing that she is headed for unknown waters with Christopher Columbus.

In Spain at the end of the 15th century, Jews are persecuted, robbed, expelled from their homes, and murdered. Esther, the daughter of the rabbi of Cordoba, flees from home dressed as a boy. She is the only one in her family who escapes the bloodhounds of the Inquisition.

Esther is lucky: Through craft and bribery, she manages to sign on as a ship’s boy to get out of the country. At last she thinks she is safe. But she soon finds out that her ship is on a dangerous journey, sailing west across the ocean into unknown waters, searching for a new route to India. Her captain’s name? Christopher Columbus — a man who proves to have a keen eye for deception. It seems only a question of time before he discovers Esther’s secret.

From the Hardcover edition.

To escape the Inquisition, Esther Marchadi, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a murdered Jewish rabbi, disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of Christopher Columbus's "Santa Maria."

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Editorial Reviews

A contemporary German children's author thematizes the historical debate about whether Christopher Columbus was Jewish. Certainly, the Spain of 1492 would have been a deadly place to Esther Marchadi, so she disguises herself as a poor boy and gets aboard the Santa Maria as its lowest form of human life, a grummet—a boy gopher. Because she is educated—and, Lewin characterizes, because Columbus himself is sensitive to the need for Conversos and Marranos who need to take to sea—Esther, as Pedro, becomes the admiral's secretary. She is conflicted about hiding her religious identity from him and, as the days go on, wonders if he has guessed her true gender as well. Unlike L. A. Meyer's Bloody Jack (Harcourt, 2002), Esther/Pedro's story is without comic relief. But it does ring credible and offers young readers an accessible take on an historical controversy, as well as an accurate snapshot of life at sea in the 15th century. The writing is smooth and, for a thrifty price, this is a competent way to introduce middle school readers to the topics of ethnic identity, gender issues, historical fiction's use of facts, and YA fiction in translation. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Laurel-Leaf, 262p.,
— Francisca Goldsmith
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-Though uneven in intensity and characterization, this absorbing story unfolds with intrigue, suspense, and adventure. Esther Marchadi, 16, is trying to escape persecution in Spain. She manages to sign on with Columbus as a ship's boy, renamed Pedro, and the challenge of keeping her gender and the fact that she is Jewish a secret underlies the tension of the story. Her strength and determination develop slowly, and it is well into the story that readers discover the haunting atrocities she has witnessed. Many of the theories about Columbus are significantly woven in, especially that he had Jewish ancestry. However, there are elements in the story that are not quite believable. Esther adjusts to the routine and learns her tasks on the Santa Maria extremely well and quickly. Her crush on Columbus seems as out of place in the story as his squelching his own physical attraction to her after she confesses her true identity. Also the extensive historical information is presented in a heavy-handed way that, at times, interrupts the narrative's flow. However, in spite of these shortcomings the story is a good one. Because Esther knows her life is in danger on the ship, she gets off in Gran Canaria. She has achieved a degree of freedom and readers are left to wonder what will become of her.-Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fugitive teenager has more than her sex to hide in this angst-ridden import, set aboard the Santa Maria as it begins its epic journey across the Atlantic. Disguised as a ship's boy, Esther struggles to conceal her ignorance of ships and sailing from the coarse, narrow-minded, intrigue-ridden crew she has joined. Why is she taking such a chance? Because in 1492 the Jews are being systematically harried out of Spain, and the sea offers her only chance of escaping the brutal fate that befell her rabbi father. As if keeping her identity secret weren't stressful enough, Lewin also throws her into the company of the vain, brilliant, sharp-eyed almirante of the little fleet, Don Cristobal himself-and her feelings swiftly pass from admiration to something hotter. Several steamy scenes ensue, during one of which Esther is astounded to discover that Columbus is circumcised. As it turns out, he isn't the only one aboard either. Though short on action-Esther makes her escape when the Santa Maria stops over in the Canary Islands, so she sees only the first part of the voyage-the tale is strong in emotional intensity, as the atrocities Esther witnesses, as well as the almost unrelenting cruelty and suspicion of the Christians surrounding her, convey a strong sense of what those ugly times must have been like. Lewin cites several sources in an afterword, both for the idea that Columbus had Jewish ancestors, and for the suggestion that he had ulterior motives for undertaking his world-changing expedition. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440228684
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 3/11/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 10 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Waldtraut Lewin has written many acclaimed novels in her native Germany.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2008

    You'll never want to stop reading this book!

    Have you ever heard the expression ¿People are not always who you think they are?¿ Waldtraut Lewin¿s novel, Freedom Beyond the Sea, illustrates this point. Freedom Beyond the Sea is the story of a sixteen-year-old named Pedro who, on August 2, 1492, takes a job as a grummet aboard one of Christopher Columbus¿ ships, the Santa Maria. The explorer¿s fleet is sailing westward in search of a new trade route to India. Pedro, whose father is a Jewish rabbi, joins on as a ship¿s ¿boy¿ pursuant to the expulsion by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of all Jews from the Spanish kingdom. Once on board, Pedro must be careful not only to hide his religion but also to disguise his gender: Pedro is actually a girl named Esther Marchadi! It seems to Esther that Christopher Columbus can see right through her. If her real identity is discovered, what will the torturous consequences be? As the book unfolds, we realize that Esther¿s voyage across the high seas is actually a journey to discovering her true self. Freedom Beyond the Sea, a work of historical fiction, has been captivating readers from age ten to adult since its publication in Germany by Ravensburger Buchverlag in 1997. (The book was translated into English in 2001 by Dell Laurel Leaf Books.) I enjoyed reading this book for various reasons, one of which was the author¿s use of vivid details. As I turned the pages, I felt surrounded by the fifteenth-century setting and ominous mood. I also appreciated Lewin¿s use of interesting vocabulary and historical references to the Spanish Inquisition. Further, I was enthralled by the book¿s characters, from apprehensive Esther, who wonders if she will ¿ever be without fear again,¿ to powerful Christopher Columbus who commands the sea (¿The sea and I, we work together.¿) Even the book¿s minor and mostly unpleasant characters are so well-developed that the reader feels physically repulsed by their behavior. In fact, if there is an aspect of the novel which I did not favor, it is that some of the dialogue is pretty crude and made me feel uncomfortable. Still, this may be a compliment to the author and his ability to make the characters seem real. There are multiple themes in Freedom Beyond the Sea from religious persecution to self-discovery. I believe that the principal theme is the idea that, sometimes, a person needs to put everything at risk in order to achieve their ultimate goal. Certainly, Esther (Pedro) is forced to abandon not only her religious convictions but her own female identity in order to be free. Her fight for freedom is told by Lewin in the first person, but readers will feel as if they are seeing through the eyes of two different people -- a frightened Jewish girl and a clever Catholic boy, both set on creating a more promising destiny than the one history had laid out before them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2006

    Not a good Book

    I did not like this book. It was boring and slow and not much happened throughout the whole story. I suggest that you don't waste your time reading this book and choose something else to read.

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