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The Mapmaker's Daughter [NOOK Book]

Overview

How Far Would You Go To Stay True to Yourself?


Spain, 1492. On the eve of the Jewish expulsion from Spain, Amalia Riba stands at a crossroads. In a country violently divided by religion, she must either convert to Christianity and stay safe, or remain a Jew and risk everything.


It's a choice she's been walking toward her whole life, from the days of her youth when her family lit the Shabbat candles in secret. Back then, she saw the vast ...

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The Mapmaker's Daughter

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Overview

How Far Would You Go To Stay True to Yourself?


Spain, 1492. On the eve of the Jewish expulsion from Spain, Amalia Riba stands at a crossroads. In a country violently divided by religion, she must either convert to Christianity and stay safe, or remain a Jew and risk everything.


It's a choice she's been walking toward her whole life, from the days of her youth when her family lit the Shabbat candles in secret. Back then, she saw the vast possibility of the world, outlined in the beautiful pen and ink maps her father created. But the world has shifted and contracted since then.


The Mapmaker's Daughter is a stirring novel about identity, exile, and what it means to be home.


"A close look at the great costs and greater rewards of being true to who you really are. A lyrical journey to the time when the Jews of Spain were faced with the wrenching choice of deciding their future as Jews—a pivotal period of history and inspiration today."—Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author of Elizabeth I


"The many twists and turns in the life of the mapmaker's daughter, Amalia, mirror the tenuous and harrowing journey of the Jewish community in fifteenth-century Iberia, showing how family and faith overcame even the worst the Inquisition could inflict on them."—Anne Easter Smith, author of Royal Mistress and A Rose for the Crown


"A powerful love story ignites these pages, making the reader yearn for more as they come to know Amalia and Jamil, two of the most compelling characters in recent historical fiction. An absolute must-read!"—Michelle Moran, author of The Second Empress and Madam Tussaud

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/27/2014
Amalia is descended from a long line of famed Spanish cartographers, including her father, who has spent his life making maps for Spanish royalty. As the Spanish court in the 15th century moves to persecute those who live openly as Jews, Amalia’s family changes its name, attends church, and swaps its mezuzah for a crucifix, though behind closed doors, they continue to practice their faith. When her father receives a commission to help Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince, map the newly explored African coast, Amalia accompanies him to Portugal. As she grows to womanhood, Amalia’s Jewish identity is strengthened by her enduring friendship with the poet Judah Abravanel and his family, the birth of her daughter, and a passionate (but doomed) affair with a Muslim poet. When she returns to Spain as an old woman, the political climate has further shifted, as Tomas de Torquemada spearheads the beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition. Through persecution and exile, Amalia clings to her identity as fiercely as she clings to the family atlas—a unique and priceless book created by her family and passed down through the generations. Occasional reminiscences from Amalia as an old woman stall the plot a bit, and the thematic connection to mapmaking is sometimes tenuous. But Corona (Finding Emilie) depicts the time period in great detail, and a cast of richly drawn characters adds further depth to a fascinating look at an era rarely explored in historical fiction. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Well-researched, evocative, and a pleasure to read, The Mapmaker's Daughter intimately and convincingly portrays important players in the reconquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain." - Mitchell James Kaplan, award-winning author of By Fire, By Water

"A riveting, often heart-rending tale set against the tragic backdrop of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Laurel Corona has crafted a heroine for all ages in Amalia, whose choices define an era of religious upheaval, courage, and sacrifice that still resonates today" - C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen's Vow

"A close look at the great costs and greater rewards of being true to who you really are. A lyrical journey to the time when the Jews of Spain were faced with the wrenching choice of deciding their future as Jews---a pivotal period of history and inspiration today." - Margaret George, NYT bestselling author of Elizabeth I

"I love The Mapmaker's Daughter: its compelling, very human characters; its exciting story of exile and love; the heartrending look it provides into the trials and tribulations of being Jewish and its empowering message of being true to oneself. Author Laurel Corona has described Jewish rituals and values - honoring family, community, and God - in detail that, as a non-Jew, I found utterly fascinating, and which made me envious." - Sherry Jones, author of The Jewel of the Medina, and Four Sisters, All Queens

"The ghosts of the past are never far in Laurel Corona's hauntingly beautiful tale of a woman whose life spans the Spanish Inquisition and the fall of Muslim Granada. Yet despite the dark times, a powerful love story ignites these pages, making the reader yearn for more as they come to know Amalia and Jamil, two of the most compelling characters in recent historical fiction. An absolute must-read!" - Michelle Moran, author of The Second Empress and Madame Tussaud

"Laurel Corona authoritatively gives the Jewish oppression in fifteenth century Spain a human face and heart in Amalia Riba, forced to make soul-defining decisions as her world rolls inexorably toward the Inquisition. Peopled with historic figures, her story soars from loneliness to love, tenderness to horror, and from despair to courage. Sentences of startling, hard-won wisdom leap from the page and command our memories not to forget them. Compelling, complex, and compassionate." - Susan Vreeland, NYT bestselling author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Luncheon of the Boating Party

"Amalia is the perfect character through which readers will experience these turbulent times ... Vividly detailed and beautifully written, this is a pleasure to read, a thoughtful, deeply engaging story of the power of faith to navigate history's rough terrain." - Booklist

"Amalia is a character readers cannot help but like and admire: she is courageous, stubborn, and smart, and she accepts responsibility for her choices. Corona explores the unfamiliar world of Renaissance Spain, painting vivid pictures of the court ... A very good read" - Historical Novels Review

"[Corona] is an excellent writer, with a knack for research and a flair for description." - San Diego Jewish World

"In this story about choices - and who gets to do the choosing - Corona raises some interesting questions about what it means to be courageous. And what it means to live. " - San Diego Union-Tribune"The Mapmaker's Daughter plunges readers back to the fifteenth century .. a vivid glimpse of a wrenching period of history too often forgotten." - Jewish Book Council

"[A] loving re-creation of the details of Jewish life ... Fans of C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow may especially enjoy getting a different perspective on Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand" - Library Journal

Library Journal
01/01/2014
In her fourth historical novel, Corona (Penelope's Daughter; Finding Emilie) imagines the life of a Jewish woman in 15th-century Spain. Starting life as a converso publicly living as a Christian while being secretly taught Jewish practices by her mother and grandmother, Amalia longs to follow openly the faith that she loves. She soon joins a Jewish community, but her life continues to be shaped by conflicts between religious belief and societal forces, first during a love affair with a Muslim man and then culminating in the Inquisition and expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492. VERDICT Despite the title, Amalia's mapmaker father doesn't play much of a role in the story, though one of Amalia's most treasured possessions is an atlas he creates. The novel's primary strength is Corona's loving re-creation of the details of Jewish life during the era and the particular attention paid to the role of women in keeping religious rituals alive. Fans of C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow may especially enjoy getting a different perspective on Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand here.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-02
Corona's latest historical novel is a sprawling saga of Jewish identity and religious freedom in 15th-century Spain. In Seville of 1432, Amalia Riba is the daughter of a renowned mapmaker to the Spanish court. Her family's favored status is dependent on their being Conversos, Jews who have converted to Christianity. Amalia and her mother still observe the Sabbath, however, secretly maintaining their Judaism. When Amalia's mother dies, she and her father go to Portugal, where he's employed by Henry the Navigator in the race to map Africa. Though she's still a child, Amalia is given precocious freedom in Portugal: She translates for her father and is befriended by the Abravanels, the most powerful Jewish family on the Iberian Peninsula. When she comes of age, Amalia marries Diogo Marques, a dashing explorer, but their marriage is a disaster. Diogo is gay and has drunken orgies downstairs, and the source of his considerable wealth turns out to be the African slave trade. Amalia is relieved when he dies in a storm, and she retreats a wealthy woman to the Abravenel compound, pregnant with daughter Eliana. For the first time, she lives openly as a Jew, and the richness of this life is a revelation. Then she falls in love with Jamil Hasan, an Islamic courtier from Granada. Though they cannot marry, Amalia accompanies Jamil back to Granada, where she tutors the grandchildren of the caliphate. The Alhambra is a paradise, as is the open secret of Amalia and Jamil's relationship (they compose Rumi-like verse to each other), but he must marry, and so eventually she returns to Portugal. In Amalia's middle age, Portugal too becomes an impossible place for Jews; she and the Abravanel family leave for Spain, where they raise money for Ferdinand and Isabella to drive the Moors from Granada, earning amnesty for themselves. Though the novel lags by the time we reach Amalia's old age (which revolves around her grandchildren, losing focus), the depth and detail of the previous chapters make up for the finale's shortcomings. A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402286506
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 19,374
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Laurel Corona is the author of three novels: Finding Emilie, Penelope's Daughter, and the Four Seasons. She graduated from the University of California, Davis, received her MA at the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D. at Davis.She has taught at San Diego State University, UC San Diego, and San Diego City College. She lives in San Diego. laurelcorona.com
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Read an Excerpt

1


Sevilla 1432


I hold my hands up for my mother's inspection. "They're not dirty enough, Amalia," she says. Pinching off a burnt candlewick, she smears the black powder around my nails. "There," she says. "That's better."


Little daylight remains on this tawny afternoon as she hands me an empty basket small enough for my six-year-old arm to carry. "You know what to do. And you'd better hurry."


She shuts the door behind me, and I start up the narrow street on the edge of Sevilla, stopping in the apothecary's doorway to smell the scented air. The owner sets down her pestle. "Wait a minute," she says, breaking off a sprig of rosemary, which she tucks behind my ear to protect me from the Evil Eye. Farther up the street, the air reeks from the greengrocer's fly-ridden pile of rotting vegetables and spoiled fruit, and I hold the rosemary to my nose, breathing hard through it to cover the smell as I turn the corner toward the butcher shop.


A severed pig's head looks out into the street with an oddly cheerful grin. The butcher wipes bloody fingers on his apron as he turns to serve me. "Two pork sausages and a few scraps of ham for soup," I tell him, remembering to make sure he sees that, as Friday sundown approaches, my hands are still filthy.


Soon the houses give way to a rocky field. The wildflowers reach my waist as I go down a narrow path of bent and broken stalks. Just before I reach a stand of poplars, I take the meat from my basket, noting with disdain the mosaic of white fat and pink flesh as I fling it all as far as I can into the tall grass.


Spreading my fingers to avoid the feel of the grease, I make my way through the trees to the edge of a small pool. From time to time, someone must come here or there wouldn't be a path, but it is easier to get water from the pumps in the squares than from the springs around Sevilla. In warm weather, my mother brings me with her to stand guard while she immerses the way she is supposed to after the blood stops flowing from between her legs each month, and I think of it as our private place.


A frog splays his legs as he crosses the pool. "Don't be afraid, little fellow," I say as I crouch to rinse my hands of the grease. Mayyim hayyim, my mother calls this pool. Living water, though it makes my fingers look as pale as the dead.


"Baruch atah Adonai," I whisper. "Eloheinu Melech ha'olam." After blessing the Holy One, I add the words for the ritual of washing hands, watching the swirls of water disturb the grass on the edges of the pool. "Vetzivanu al netilat yadayim."


When my hands are so clean they squeak, I splash water on my face to come home looking fresh for Shabbat. I imagine the sausage hidden in the grass, and since there is no blessing for throwing forbidden meat away, I whisper the words I often hear my mother say. "Please accept that we honor you the best we can." I stand for a moment in silence before picking up my basket to head for home.


Valencia 1492


I look at my hands, half expecting to see them pink and glistening from the spring, but instead find them corded and rippled. Sixty-six years old. I am a daughter, wife, mother, widow, lover, grandmother, but I sit now in an empty room in a hostile city because I am a Jew. I have been expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella from the land of my birth for that simple fact.


I should be more precise. I am caught between two impossible choices. I can go to the church whose clanging bells disturb my sleep and allow some cruel-mouthed priest to pour water on me. After he pronounces me restored to God, I will live at the mercy of neighbors suspicious I am not Christian enough. That, or leave Spain with my daughter's family and wander until more hospitable people take us in.


I do not appreciate the service Ferdinand and Isabella think they have done by offering Jews their paradise. Need I say that I prefer the life of comfort and dignity they have torn from me? Or would the fact that I am in the sole chair on a bare floor in an empty room in the port of Valencia say it for me? Isaac, my son-in-law, says that their Catholic Majesties didn't really intend the Jews to leave. They simply want Jewishness to melt away in Spain, forgotten by our children's children for lack of practice.


How little they understand. There's a knowledge deep in our bones that some lines cannot be crossed without becoming unrecognizable to ourselves-the only death truly to be feared. I know who I have been. I know who I am. I know who I will remain.


I am Amalia Cresques, though I have had other names. A Christian name disguised my Hebrew one at my birth. "Ama-lia," my mother would say, deliberately mispronouncing my name so I wouldn't forget. "God loves Leah. That's what it means. It's your real name, the one known to him."


It was the first of many deceptions by which my mother and I secretly lived as what Jews call anusim, the forced ones. "There are two kinds of anusim," she told me. "The ones who say, ‘I give up,' and the ones who don't." The ones who don't are called Judaizers, living outwardly as Christians but keeping to the old ways in secret.


Conversos, New Christians-that's what families like the one I grew up in are called. In private, the good Christian folk of Spain call us reformed blasphemers, repentant Christ-killers, unworthy prodigal sons. Even their holy water cannot replace the degeneracy they are sure is in our blood.


"He that fleeth from the terror shall fall into the pit; and he that getteth up out of the pit shall be taken in the trap; for I will bring upon her, even upon Moab, the year of their visitation." The words of the prophets come easily to mind, for I have been awash in them most of my life.


We are the new Moabites, and the year of our visitation has come.


I shut my eyes and feel the memories crowding in again. My breath leaks out and time goes backward with it.


Sevilla 1432


The sky is coral with sunset, but the shadows are so deep, I recognize my father only by the slight hitch in his gait. I run down the street to meet him and give him the basket to hold, so I can slip my hand in his.


We're late, but I know better than to say so. "Vicente Riba doesn't have any obligation at sundown on the Sabbath," he would snap. "I'm a Christian, and so are you."


At the threshold of our house, he puts his fingers to his lips and touches a crucifix in the doorway. He looks out of the corner of his eye, hoping someone passing in the street sees him make the sign of the cross.


"Rosaura?" he calls out.


My mother comes to the door, looking like the last bloom of summer drooping heavily on its stem. "You worried me. It's almost dark." She takes the basket and turns around. "Susana! Luisa! Come here!"


My twelve-year-old sister Susana comes from the kitchen with my little sister in tow, chewing on a piece of bread the servant girl has given her. "Come along," my mother says, taking an oil lamp from a sideboard. "I need your help." My father's face grows stormy, but as usual, he says nothing.


In the basement, my mother sets two candles on a stool in the middle of the floor, away from anything that might catch fire. Fishing a splinter of wood from her apron pocket, she lights one end from the lamp and touches it to the wicks. "Blessed art thou, Lord God, king of the universe," she says in a voice between singing and speaking, "who sanctifies us with his commandments and commands us to light the Sabbath candles."


I shut my eyes when she does, taking in the moment. Quiet time with my mother is rare, even if I do have to share it with Susana, who is twice my age and not my friend. I try to make her think I don't notice she's there by crouching down to talk to Luisa, who just turned three. "Baruch atah Adonai," I repeat slowly, emphasizing each syllable. "Rook tadonai," Luisa says solemnly, and my mother smiles.


Susana shifts from foot to foot. She hates coming down here for the weekly ceremony that begins Shabbat. She wants to be like her Old Christian friends, with their honey-colored hair and pale, heart-shaped faces. I catch her glowering into her looking glass, tugging at her drab, brown locks as if they have done something wrong. She wears her crucifix to bed, though my mother tells her she'll strangle on it someday.


"We can't be down here so long," Susana scolds. "Don't you think people can figure out what you're doing?"


I reach for my mother's hand. "Avla bien para ki ti venga bien!" I say, repeating one of her favorite sayings.


Susana glares at me. "Mother, are you going to let her talk to me that way?"


"Amalia is right," Mama says. "Speak well so good will come to you. Ken savi los ke estan sintiendo?"


Who knows who is nearby? Susana should not be so careless. Evil spirits are always lurking, and they might whisper to our neighbors that we secretly light Sabbath candles. The sheddim are happiest when our own words give them ideas about how to hurt us. We refer to them aloud as los mejores de mosotros, the best of us, because it's important to distract them with flattery.


Mother hands Susana a bottle of wine and gives Luisa and me oranges from a basket, to make it seem as if our trip to the cellar was just an errand. I go up behind my sisters, but sensing my mother is not behind me, I turn at the top of the stairs. She is still in front of the candles, her lips moving as she talks to the circles of golden light.


***


Luisa slips one hand in mine and wipes the sleep from her eyes with the other as we leave the house the next morning. The lingering cold of winter brushes my cheeks, but the April sun is already warming the air. We hurry behind Susana and my mother, their strides growing longer and faster as they continue a hushed argument that began at the house.


"They act like Jews, Mama. It makes me uncomfortable. You know it does." Mama hunches silently over the covered basket she carries, as if she has not heard Susana's comment.


We arrive at the stables and, after hiring a driver and cart, we are soon in the countryside amid fields of red poppies, dotted with splashes of blue, yellow, and white, as chaotic and wild as if they had been painted by a blind man. Black-and-white magpies fly with wings so shiny they look dipped in water. The scent of newly tilled earth teases my nostrils until I sneeze.


My legs jiggle in anticipation of the chance to run in the open air and to use the loud voice I have to hush at home, calling out to whomever will listen, even if it's just the ducks in the yard or the clouds already billowing in the immense blue sky.


Luisa is squirming, tired of bouncing along the rutted dirt road. "Go to sleep," I tell her. "We'll get there faster that way." She lays her head in my lap, and though I want to stay awake, the jostling makes my head slump, and we doze until the barking dogs in the village wake us.


My grandfather is waiting at the gate to his farm, catching Luisa as she jumps out of the cart. Brushing back a stray wisp of her blond hair, he kisses her forehead. I jump down just as Grandmother hurries up the walk. "Shabbat shalom," I whisper so the driver will not overhear. I feel her arms tighten around me, and my breath is hot against her skirt.


Mama hands our parcels to Susana before getting out herself. "Be back before dark," she tells the driver. He nods, and with a flick of the reins, he heads off toward Sevilla.


"Shabbat shalom, Father," Mama says when the driver is beyond hearing. "Shabbat shalom," she repeats to Grandmother, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Her voice is so loving that I always forget they are my father's parents, not hers.


Luisa and I run ahead to the chicken coop to check if eggs are still in the nests. Just inside the gate, tiny cheeps come from puffs of bright yellow scampering on the dirt floor. "Hold it gently in your palm," I say, picking one up. Luisa's face glows as she holds the chick near her face and talks to it.


Some are still breaking free of their shells, their feathers clinging to them like wet, brown spines. One is making a pitiful little sound, and thinking it might be cold, I blow on its feathers. At the feel of air on its body, it looks around, dazed. I can hear Luisa's soft breath as she puts her chick in the nest.


"Pio, pio," she says, imitating them.


"Pio, pio," I repeat, taking her hand.


"There you are, my little radishes!" Grandfather comes up behind us and picks Luisa up in his arms. He puts his other hand on my shoulder. "How do you like our new additions?"


"They look like they've drowned when they first come out."


"And then, before you know it, they're like old mother hen here, with chicks of their own."


"Grandchicks," Luisa says.


He laughs with a great roar. "Grandchicks," he repeats. "Pollititos." The sound of the word makes us giggle, and we make it a game as we walk back to the house. "Pollitititos. Pollitititititos," we say, stopping only when our tongues get tangled up in the sounds.


Inside the house, Grandmother has laid out a bowl of olives next to the embroidered cloth covering two loaves of challah and is removing hot cinders from around a kettle of stew. She wipes her hands on her apron, and stands next to my grandfather. He pours wine in a silver kiddush cup. "Blessed art thou, Lord God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine," he says before taking a sip. He offers the cup to my grandmother and mother before lowering it to me. My cheeks pucker in anticipation even before I taste it.


Luisa stands next to me. "It tastes awful," I whisper, as Grandfather puts his finger in the wine and touches it to her lips. She matches my grimace and shudders the way she always does, causing a ripple of laughter from the adults.


Except Susana, who wants nothing to do with these rituals. "The stew smells delicious, Grandmother," she says, looking away.


"I made your favorite," Grandmother says to her after we have blessed the bread and are seating ourselves on benches around the table. The scent of cloves and cinnamon wafts up from saffron broth as grandmother fills our bowls with white beans, chickpeas, and cubes of beef.


For a while, no one speaks as we enjoy Grandmother's adafina, kept warm from yesterday, because cooking is work, and work is forbidden on Shabbat. We eat the first bites hurriedly but eventually slow down, because Shabbat meals are meant to be savored, and no one will be leaving the table until we have talked about our week, sung a few songs, and eaten all that our stomachs will hold.


A loud knock startles us. "Who's there?" I hear the alarm in Grandfather's voice as he goes to the door.


Grandmother hurries to hide the remainder of the bread, and my mother covers the pot of stew and takes it out the back door. A stew kept warm on a dying fire and a braided loaf means that we are observing the Jewish Sabbath, and no one must know. But it is just neighbors, Bernardo and Marisela, come with a flute and tambourine to be among their own kind making music on Shabbat afternoon.


The bread and stew are brought back to the table, and though we all claim to have had enough, the pot is soon emptied with small tastes, sopped up with the remaining bread. Susana has disappeared, using the excitement of the new arrivals to slip outside.


"You mustn't be so hard on Susana," Grandmother says. "Girls get moody when it's their time to become a woman."


"But she's so scornful!" My mother's eyes glisten. "She says, ‘I was born a Christian.' What kind of talk is that? As if we can choose our ancestors?"


"Sensible talk," Grandfather replies, raising his eyebrows. "We are Jews who cross ourselves, eat pork when a Christian puts it on our plate, and buy leavened bread during Passover even though we feed it to the chickens when no one is looking." He shrugs, but his eyes flicker with pain. "We've left behind so much of who we are, perhaps it's no longer worth the trouble to keep to our old ways."


"Jaume!" Grandmother is aghast. "Such talk coming from you?"


"Such talk? I have spent my life paying the price for letting them splash me with their water when I was a young man living in Mallorca. Surely you should know where my heart lies." Above his gray beard, his face is mottled with anger. "I was afraid-I confess to that! I did it to save my life, but I am not one of them. My knees may bend when they wave their crucifixes in front of me, but my mind never will."


He exhales with a snort so loud and horselike I might have giggled if the subject were not so serious. "Stupid fools if they think I believe that nonsense about their Hanged One and their sacred wafers and that wine they say turns to blood that he wants us to drink in his memory." His lip curls. "Drink his blood? What kind of barbarians would do that?"


He stops momentarily, but I know he isn't really asking us to answer. "We live in a terrible place, a terrible time," he goes on. "And if the Holy One means us to survive, how exactly does he mean us to do it?"


I hate these conversations because I know, even at six, that a threat hangs over these afternoons. To Christians, we are Judaizers. To Jews, we are traitors to the faith of Moses, Marranos, swine. I fight back tears. "Can't you unbaptize yourself?" I say, hearing the huskiness in my voice. "Can't you say, ‘I've changed my mind and I'd rather be a Jew?'"


My grandmother smiles wistfully. "I wish it were that simple, little one, but Christians believe that once they've wetted you, there's no turning back."


My mother looks at me, and I know what she is thinking. Immediately after my baptism, she told me she took me to our spring to wash away the water and restore me to our people. The following year, the church burned down and the record of my baptism was destroyed. Mama says that makes me still a Jew in God's eyes, but it's not something we should mention to anyone.


Cleansed with living water and my baptism purged by fire. I return Mama's smile, warmed by our secret. If I should need to say I have never been baptized, no one could disprove it. If I said I was, no one could disprove that either. I don't understand why this is important, but Mama says every secret Jew might need a story someday.


"Best to marry Susana off quickly," Grandfather is saying. "She has excellent prospects. She's healthy, and the Riba family has the means-"


"But she's so young," my mother protests. "She hasn't the hips for childbearing yet."


"Perhaps you haven't noticed," Grandmother says gently. "I think she is growing them now." She pats my mother's hand. "And she'll make you a grandmother all the sooner, if it's God's will."


To avert my mother's darkening mood, we stand for the blessing after meals, after which we burst into song.


Bendigamos al Altísimo,


Al Señor que nos crió,


Démosle agradecimiento


Por los bienes que nos dió.


I have practiced all the verses in bed so I know the song by heart. "Let us bless the Most High, the Lord who raised us. Let us give him thanks for the good things he has given us," I sing, loudly enough to draw the smiles I crave.


Grandfather unfurls his fingers in a loud and decisive strum of the guitar he has fetched from the corner, while the others pick up tambourines and flutes. Eventually Susana comes back inside and stands next to me, clicking castanets with my mother. Watching her, I wonder why Susana wants to be a Christian when Jews have afternoons as wonderful as this.


Grandfather plays the first notes of Luisa's favorite, and we jump to our feet. "Dance, Rachel, and Mojonico sing! The fat rats clap their hands." The song creeps as slowly as a burglar at the start, and we act like statues coming to life. Each verse speeds up, until Luisa and I are waving our arms and leaping in wild circles. At the end of the last verse, we dive into pillows on the floor, holding our bellies and squealing with laughter.


Even Grandmother is persuaded to dance. Though she complains that her joints are stiff and she is too old for such things, I watch her feet flutter like birds taking off from their nests. Finally, Grandfather puts down his guitar. "Praise to the One who has such things in his world as music," he says, signaling our afternoon rest. Bernardo and Marisela leave for home, and Luisa flops on the pillow, her hair plastered brown at her temples with sweat.


Mama and Susana go with Grandmother to lie on the bed while Grandfather settles into his favorite chair. I'm tired, but I don't want to sleep. "Will you show me the atlas?" I ask, widening my eyes in hope Grandfather will find me irresistible. He musses my hair. "All right, but just for a minute. An old man needs his Sabbath nap."


The book is so big it knocks against my ankles as I carry it to him. He sets it alongside his chair and waits for me to hop in his lap. "Tell me the whole story again," I say.


"You've already heard it a hundred times."


I twist my head around to look at him. "But not for a while. I think I might have forgotten something."


He laughs. "You, my little radish, never forget a thing!"


"Tell me anyway," I say, wiggling my legs down between his thighs as he stretches his arms around me and rests the open atlas on his knees.


The six vellum panels in the atlas are almost as long as my grandfather's arms, and as I sit on his lap, the top of the world looms over my head. "Our king, Pedro, knew that the king of France wanted a map of the world. Catalan atlas makers were the best, and my father was best of all. I was a cartographer too, so we made this atlas for Pedro to give to his friend."


"Your father was Abraham Cresques," I interrupt. Now that I've gotten him to show me the map, I want him to know how much, not how little, I remember. "That means Cresques should be my name too."


"Except that in 1391, mobs started killing Jews all over Spain, and I was baptized against my will. They forced us to take Christian names, and I became Jaume Riba. But Jehuda Cresques is my real name, just like yours is Leah even though everyone calls you Amalia."


"Ama-lia," I correct him with a smile.


"Ama-lia," he repeats. "And when I am gone, I hope you will remember me as Jehuda Cresques, even if that won't be on my tombstone."


"I will, Grandfather."


He doesn't seem to hear my promise. "It was too terrible a thought never to see our work again-may the Evil Eye not punish me for such pride-so we secretly made this copy, which we've kept all these years."


Grandfather thinks for a moment. "We imagine we are on top of the ball of the world but they feel the same in China or Africa." He kisses the top of my head. "Never forget that making a round world that no one falls off is easy for the Holy One. So next time you look around and say, ‘this world doesn't make any sense,' just remember that it does to him and be grateful that no one else is really in charge, even those who wear crowns."


"Yes, Grandfather."


The large page scratches my belly as he turns it to reveal the next panel. I know what I'm going to see, but it takes my breath away nonetheless. Navigational lines radiate outward in an ocean of lapis lazuli, like frost on a window against a brilliant blue sky. On the right is Spain. "Sevilla," I say, "Toledo, Salamanca, Valencia." I point to each city in turn, as Grandfather nods with pride. "If I ever need to make another map," he says, "I know who to ask for help."


Mama comes from the bedroom. "Have you kept Grandfather up?" she scolds, but she doesn't mean it. She takes the atlas from his hands despite my protest that I have seen only one page. "It's time for us to get ready to leave. The cart should be here soon."


I crawl down from Grandfather's lap and go to wake up Luisa. "Come on," I say, "unless you want me to say good-bye to the chickens without you." We make a quick trip, and on our way back, we see the cart and driver stopping at the gate. Inside, everyone is gathering around the table for the habdalah ceremony that ends Shabbat.


Grandmother brings a special, braided candle to the table, its tip flaming. "Blessed art thou, Lord God, king of the universe," Grandfather chants, "who separates the sacred from the ordinary." He pours wine into the silver cup until it overflows, then puts the candle out in it. We break out into laughter, not because it's funny but because that's what we're supposed to do to make the start of the week happy.


Grandfather takes off the lid of a small carved-ivory jar, and the aroma of cloves and cinnamon wafts through the air. After massaging the dried spices between his fingers to release more of their scent, he puts the jar under my nose. "May you have a sweet week," he says.


Susana inhales the heady blend next and holds the jar under Mama's nose. When it has passed to everyone, we stand around a plate of membrillo, taking turns spooning out a morsel of the sweetened quince paste and sighing as it melts on our tongues.


Mama and the others start down the path, but Grandmother motions to Luisa and me to stay. She dips her fingers in the remaining wine from the silver cup. She touches behind our ears for health, in our pockets for wealth, and on the backs of our necks for the quick arrival of the Messiah.


As we walk to the gate, Grandmother picks a blossom from a quince tree and tucks it behind my ear. "Have a good week, my beloved Leah," she says. Its fragrance fills the carriage all the way home.


Valencia 1492


I wake to the faint scent of quince blossoms and cinnamon, and I think for a moment it is Shabbat and I am in Grandfather's lap. I feel his spirit breathing on my neck. "You kept it safe," he says.


"Yes, Grandfather," I whisper. "I showed it to my daughter, to my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren, just as you shared it with me."


I don't want to tell him I can protect it no further. Jews may take no more from Spain than they can carry. Take something useful, my daughter has told me. A little more clothing, or a piece of leather for new soles for our shoes. Sell the atlas and sew into my hem the few coins it will bring. I see the pain behind her resolve. The book is as much a part of her as it is of me, no easier to leave behind than an arm or a leg.


I don't know what I will do when my grandson Judah arrives later today to take me to the boat. I could take the vial of poison I bought from a gypsy on the road to Valencia and pour it down my throat to save myself the decision of whether to go or stay behind, but the thought of Judah finding my body on a day already full of unspeakable loss restrains me.


"Go to the end," my grandfather says, still behind me. I open my mouth to protest that I am already at the end. Go, stay, die, live-it's all the same.


"I mean the atlas," he says, annoyed at my incomprehension. "The last panel, the one that was your favorite." I turn to the Asia of Kubla Khan, a lumpy circle, with people and places lining its perimeter. At the top, the figures are painted upside down, or so I thought when grandfather first showed them to me. "When people think there's only one right place to stand, they say foolish things like ‘you're doing it wrong.' All you have to do is go to the other side and look again at how many ways there are to see the world." I am not sure if the solemn voice I hear is a memory or a whisper. "You must act in their world, even when every choice seems as impossible as riding a horse upside down."


I touch the empire of Magog, at the summit of Asia. "Behold a swarm of locusts were coming," the prophet Amos said, "and one of the locusts was Gog, the King." He could hardly be more fearsome than Isabella and Ferdinand. If a mapmaker painted Spain now, it would have boats sinking, refugees drowning, doleful lines of Jews on dusty roads, bonfires with black corpses hanging from stone pillars...


"Grandfather, help me," I plead. "I don't know what to do."


"Go with your heart. You cannot do otherwise."


"But I don't know what my heart is telling me!" I want to protest that I am a confused old woman who can't think straight anymore.


He cuts off my complaint. "It's buried in your memories. Go find out."

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2014

    Not many know how King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella treated the

    Not many know how King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella treated the Jews of Spain and that is what drew me to this book for we
    are bombarded with books about European Jews during World War II and even though they represent a large portion of my reading
    list it is refreshing to see a book that still highlights the history of the Jewish people without the word Hitler anywhere in the text.

    How unimaginably difficult it must be to make that choice: To either pretend to be a Christian or to live openly as a Jew in those times?
    It seems either way the Jewish people could not escape the wrath of us Christians, we were a biased people back then so much for
    loving your neighbor and all. The Jewish people of Spain, even though they obviously suffer, take this persecution and eventual
    expulsion from Spain with great strength and faith that God will be there with them throughout it all.  I must admit I am a little jealous
    of Amalia and the strength and sense of home that she finds within her faith even in the house of the Lord I feel somewhat outside
    everything that is occurring inside the church, so I am quite jealous of Amalia’s sense of faith.

    When she was little Amalia’s family converted from Judaism to Christianity to ensure their safety but even for those who converted
    they were still viewed with suspicion and hatred but more unlikely to be killed then someone whom practiced Judaism for all to see,
    so Amalia’s mom made sure that they practiced their true religion in secret. The story follows Amalia throughout her life with all of its
    triumphs, trials, joys, and disappointments through a horrible marriage and into a loving affair, Amalia is someone who lives life to the
    fullest all while maintaining her sense of self.

    Just like her grandfather’s atlas, Amalia has drawn her own map, not one you can see visually for it spans a lifetime, but one of life
    and love with its own mountains and valleys, stormy seas and calm meadows.  A marvelous tale about a wonderful woman’s love of
    faith and family!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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