The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition

4.5 2
by Doreen Carvajal
     
 

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The unexpected and moving story of an American journalist who works to uncover her family’s long-buried Jewish ancestry in Spain.

Raised a Catholic in California, New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal is shocked when she discovers that her background may actually be connected to conversos in Inquisition-era Spain , Jews

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Overview

The unexpected and moving story of an American journalist who works to uncover her family’s long-buried Jewish ancestry in Spain.

Raised a Catholic in California, New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal is shocked when she discovers that her background may actually be connected to conversos in Inquisition-era Spain , Jews who were forced to renounce their faith and convert to Christianity or face torture and death. With vivid childhood memories of Sunday sermons, catechism, and the rosary, Carvajal travels to the south of Spain, to the centuries-old Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera, to investigate her lineage and recover her family’s original religious heritage.

In Arcos, Carvajal is struck by the white pueblo's ancient beauty and the difficulty she encounters in probing the town's own secret history of the Inquisition. She comes to realize that fear remains a legacy of the Inquisition along with the cryptic messages left by its victims. Back at her childhood home in California, Carvajal uncovers papers documenting a family of Carvajals who were burned at the stake in the 16th-century territory of Mexico. Could the author’s family history be linked to the hidden history of Arcos? And could the unfortunate Carvajals have been her ancestors?

As she strives to find proof that her family had been forced to convert to Christianity six-hundred years ago, Carvajal comes to understand that the past flows like a river through time –and that while the truth might be submerged, it is never truly lost.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite growing up Catholic, Carvajal never sensed the familial connection with the religion she believed she should have felt. Unable to shake that feeling, Carvajal, a Paris-based reporter for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, moved to the old Spanish town of Arcos de la Frontera in search of her family’s “discarded identity,” believing the family was connected to the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of Jews from Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. As an outsider, she is slow to crack the secretive and ritualistic community, but her skills as a reporter and passion for knowledge eventually allow her to find clues hidden in plain sight in the local music, food, and architecture that point to the region’s concealed Jewish history as well as her own relationship to her new hometown. Just like her ancestors, her tale wanders the globe from the dusty archives at a California university, a DNA lab in Texas, a lawyer in Costa Rica, and a nearly 200-year-old Paris synagogue, but Carvajal’s powerful prose is strong enough to hold these divergent story lines in a cohesive and engaging narrative of self-discovery and historical investigation. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Though raised Catholic in America, Carvajal discovered that her ancestors might have been Spanish Jews forced to convert during the Inquisition. So she traveled to the Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera to try to dig up her roots, then investigated documents about a Carvajal family burned at the stake in 1500s Mexico. What she discovers, above all else, is that the past is a river running very, very deep.
Kirkus Reviews
The haunting account of an investigative journalist's efforts to uncover her family's hidden Sephardic Jewish past. In the aftermath of 9/11, Paris-based New York Times journalist Carvajal began to experience "a strange yearning for something indefinable--a sense of refuge, of belonging." She also wanted to "fill in the deep, black holes" of memory that persisted in her Catholic family's history. Eventually, the author moved to Arcos de la Frontera, a town located in the same Spanish province where her father's family had originated. From this vantage point, she began to explore the fascinating, fraught history of the Sephardic Jews, who had been forced to become Catholic converts or exiles. She learned about the double lives of many of the conversos and the secret, often ingenious ways they developed to pay tribute to their true heritage. Carvajal also began to understand the ways in which Judaism had infused such time-honored and apparently Catholic traditions as the saeta, a song performed during Holy Week to pay homage to life-sized images of Christ or the Virgin Mary. Her quest for knowledge about los sefarditas soon evolved alongside a parallel quest for information about her family's past. Dissatisfied with the vague responses she received from relatives about family history, she pursued DNA testing, which offered tantalizing hints rather than conclusive answers to her questions. Carvajal finally found the "defining clue that resolved all doubts." As was the case with so much else they and other Sephardic Jews had left behind, the answers, though encrypted, were in plain sight, awaiting eyes that could decipher the truth. A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.
From the Publisher
"Doreen Carvajal has undertaken an extrordinary journey, and the story she tells is both personal and universal."
- Anne Lamott

"[A] compelling mix of memoir and reporting."
- O, The Oprah Magazine

“Unforgettable…Carvajal immerses herself and her readers in the ringing of Arcos’ ancient bells, the stories of its town historian, or cronista, and, most of all, the performance of haunting religious songs known as ‘saetas’ that may have originated as Jewish laments.”

Chicago Tribune

“Darkly poetic.”
- Christian Science Monitor

“This book is an important addition to the record of Jewish history, not because it describes what history books already can tell us but because it evokes a personal sense of both loss and redemption growing out of that brutal history.”

Kansas City Star

“Carvajal is a journalist who understands the nuance and beauty of travel writing. Combining this gift with this highly personal story, she creates a book that shimmers with enchantment, pulling the reader into her life with gentle tugs on the heartstrings. What she calls ‘hunting family ghosts’ will resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place where they were and dreamed of finding another heritage just one layer beneath the one they had always accepted as the bedrock of their self-definition.”

- The Jewish Book Council

“A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.”
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Carvajal’s powerful prose is strong enough to hold these divergent story lines in a cohesive and engaging narrative of self-discovery and historical investigation.”
- Publishers Weekly 

“Such an intriguing topic, and Carvajal…certainly knows how to write.”
- Library Journal

“[Carvajal’s] exploration reveals the fascinating legacy of the Jewish conversos…Her experiences not only reflect a heartfelt attempt to recapture a lost identity but also serve as a launching point for a wider exploration of the repercussions of the Inquisition.”
- Booklist

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594487392
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/16/2012
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Doreen Carvajal has undertaken an extrordinary journey, and the story she tells is both personal and universal."
- Anne Lamott

"[A] compelling mix of memoir and reporting."
- O, The Oprah Magazine

“Unforgettable…Carvajal immerses herself and her readers in the ringing of Arcos’ ancient bells, the stories of its town historian, or cronista, and, most of all, the performance of haunting religious songs known as ‘saetas’ that may have originated as Jewish laments.”
Chicago Tribune

“Darkly poetic.”
- Christian Science Monitor

“This book is an important addition to the record of Jewish history, not because it describes what history books already can tell us but because it evokes a personal sense of both loss and redemption growing out of that brutal history.”
Kansas City Star

“Carvajal is a journalist who understands the nuance and beauty of travel writing. Combining this gift with this highly personal story, she creates a book that shimmers with enchantment, pulling the reader into her life with gentle tugs on the heartstrings. What she calls ‘hunting family ghosts’ will resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place where they were and dreamed of finding another heritage just one layer beneath the one they had always accepted as the bedrock of their self-definition.”
- The Jewish Book Council

“A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.”
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Carvajal’s powerful prose is strong enough to hold these divergent story lines in a cohesive and engaging narrative of self-discovery and historical investigation.”
- Publishers Weekly

“Such an intriguing topic, and Carvajal…certainly knows how to write.”
- Library Journal

“[Carvajal’s] exploration reveals the fascinating legacy of the Jewish conversos…Her experiences not only reflect a heartfelt attempt to recapture a lost identity but also serve as a launching point for a wider exploration of the repercussions of the Inquisition.”
- Booklist

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