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

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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 who were forced to renounce their faith and convert to Christianity or face torture and death. With vivid childhood memories of Sunday sermons, ...

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

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594487392
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/16/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Doreen Carvajal is a Paris-based reporter for the The New York Times and a senior writer for the International Herald Tribune covering European issues. She has more than 25 years of journalism experience covering a broad range of subjects, from politics and immigration to book publishing and the media. She lives with her family near Paris.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    Recommend

    Well written, very insightful- i felt i was on the journey with Doreen It really opened my eyes and now i want to read more books on this subject!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Well written, interesting

    Well written, interesting, uncovering and coming to terms with Spanish Jewish ancestors' enforced conversion to a Catholicism that would continue to treat them as unworthy for hundreds of years. There's no question that they were conversos, no question that the conversos were in an in-between status, no question that the author was raised Catholic. Rather, the burning question for the author seems to have been whether and in what way and to what extent they were still Jewish.

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