By Fire, By Water

By Fire, By Water

by Mitchell James Kaplan

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Overview

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.
   Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590513521
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 05/18/2010
Pages: 298
Sales rank: 354,447
Product dimensions: 5.72(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Mitchell James Kaplan has lived and worked primarily in Paris and Los Angeles as a translator, screenwriter, and script consultant. Currently, he resides in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

“I’ve had time to think,” explained Santángel. “I’ve done a great deal of thinking.
Praying. Remembering.” He glanced at the slate-gray sea. “I spent hours, calling up every detail.” He delicately ran his hand along the rim of her ear, down her cheek, under her jaw. “From the first words I heard you pronounce...”
   She removed his hand from her face, but held his forearm. “What were they?”
   “Allah alone conquers. The inscription on those beakers you made for the vizier.”
   “Yes.” She nodded with a nostalgic smile. “Allah alone conquers. Even the most powerful of us, we have little control over our destiny.”
   “Then our only choice is to embrace that destiny.”
   “Embrace it? Look around, Chancellor. Look around.”
Exiles all around them, some emaciated from long travels, many filthy, tried to board ships, pleaded with sailors, appealed to authorities. As he observed all this despair, Luis de Santángel felt more powerless than ever. His mind reviewed his years in the royal court—the perfidy of some, the loyalty of others, the sacrifices, the battles, the triumphs, the fears, the losses. For what good?
   “No, Chancellor. Our only choice,” said Judith, “is not to embrace our destiny in this world, but to hope for a better world.” Her eyes glided to the galleon behind him.
   “Then I shall accompany you into that world.”
 

Reading Group Guide

1. What did you know about the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) prior to reading By Fire, By Water? How did this story influence or increase your understanding of this historical period? 

2. In By Fire, By Water, trusting someone can lead to life or death. Discuss the various relationships in the novel that lead to both. What kind of trust do the characters have in God? How does trust vary depending on the character's social class or religious beliefs? 

3. How do the female characters, living in a strongly patriarchal society, acquiesce to or rebel against their culture's expectations of them? How does Judith break the mold for female behavior in her community? What about Judith catches Santángel's eye, and later compels him to seek her out?

4. What kind of a father is Santángel? Early in the novel, he tells his son a story about a man with a "great treasure" who is unable to show it to anyone (pages 30-31). To what is this story alluding? Do you think Gabriel really believed his father was unfaithful to the church or was Gabriel trying to protect his father by staying away from him? 

5. What compels Santángel to learn about the Jewish faith? What is each group member's purpose for joining his secret religious meetings? How does the small group help, support, or hurt its members?

6. Discuss the significance of the novel's title, By Fire, By Water.

7. The death of Felipe, Santángel's assistant, in many ways acts as a catalyst. Why do you think this is the breaking point for Santángel? How does his secretary's death affect his faith? 

8. Why do you think Leonor, Felipe's wife, feels so protective of Santángel when he is the one who allowed Felipe to join the secret group, and thus, is partially to blame for her husband's death?

9. On page 97, Judith loses Levi for an afternoon and, in her search and worrying, reassures herself that, "History never repeats itself." Do you find evidence in the novel to support this claim?

10. What was your impression of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel? How do the monarchs differ from Granada's emir? What do they have in common?

11. What influence do religious leaders hold over the king and queen? How does this influence differ from that of Santángel and his money? Do you think any religious leaders have that sort of power today?

12. Letter writing, transcription, and written history play an enormous part in the novel. In what ways do characters use written communication to help them? In what ways does it haunt them?

13. What was your first impression of Estefan, Santángel's brother? How do the brothers' personalities and actions bring them to such different places in their lives?

14. How did the author's depiction of Cristóbal Colón contradict or conflict with your own personal knowledge of Christopher Columbus, who famously discovered the NewWorld in 1492?

15. Why is Colón so keen to push his foreign documents on Santángel? Do you believe their friendship was authentic, or was Colón merely interested in exploiting Santángel's influence on the king and queen?

16. Discuss the meaning of exile in the novel and how various characters experience it both literally and metaphorically.

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By Fire, By Water 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Kimberly_Book_Addict More than 1 year ago
By Fire, By Water is former screenwriter Mitchell James Kaplan's first novel. Set during 15th-Century Spain, By Fire, By Water takes the reader on a journey through Spain during the time of the Inquisition and the expansion of the Spanish empire. The novel is told with exquisite detail (six years of research!) and rich, layered characters. King Ferdinand's chancellor and close friend Luis de Santangel thinks that the Spanish Inquisition has done nothing but create a landscape of fear and paranoia in Spain. Fed up with the power-hungry inquisitor, General Tomás de Torquemada, he sets out with friend Christopher Columbus to Rome in the hopes that the Pope will somehow intervene. Santangel is especially nervous not only for himself, but his son and brother, because they come from a long line of conversos. (Conversos are families who were formerly of the Jewish faith but have made the transition over to Catholicism). Santangel has been having secret meetings with his aide, a Catholic priest named Caceres, and a Jewish scribe, discussing the theological differences between Judaism and Catholicism. Fearful that these meetings will be discovered after his aide is put to death for his defiance of the teachings of the Catholic Church, Santangel and Caceres hire an assassin to kill an influential priest responsible for his aide's torture and subsequent death. Witnessing the religious climate around him becoming more hostile, Santangel begins to turn to his roots in the Jewish faith in an increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere. Santangel must try to escape persecution for the contract killing, as well as deal with his ever-growing love for Judith, a silver craftswomen, all while deciding what is more important to him: his faith or his life. Kaplan does an absolutely superb job weaving the storylines of Santangel, Judith, Columbus, and the King and Queen of Spain together. Their individual stories come together effortlessly in this bloggers opinion. Kaplan is a born writer, with his eloquent writing style drawing you in from page one. It is so apparent that he researched this story, as it is just bursting at the seams with intricate detail. I honestly felt like I could visually see everything Kaplan was describing from the landscapes of Spain and Granada all the way down to the detail of the characters' clothing and jewelry. It is by far one of the best parts about the novel. The characters of this story, as I stated earlier, are so rich and layered. Santangel is one hell of a protagonist. There are so many layers and depths to him. You think you know how he is feeling and what kind of reaction he'll have and then BAM you get hit with another layer. The character of Judith is one of the only people in the story who didn't exist in real life. You'd never know it! Kaplan gives her a fantastic back story that rivals that of the actual real life stories of the other characters. That's one of my favorite things about historical fiction, the way in which it ties fiction and non-fiction together. To know all along that this story has roots in reality makes it even more exciting. I cannot recommend this book enough. I am so glad Mr. Kaplan got in touch with me to review this book!! He wrote a book for an adult mind and in doing so he has cemented his place in the literary world. I am so excited to read his future works, as he has definitely become one of my favorite authors. Kimberly (Reflections of a Book A
compulsive_reader64 More than 1 year ago
I consider myself somewhat of a specialist in this period, having majored in History at Brown, concentrating on medieval Spain. As historical novels go, Kaplan got the history about as right as possible, down to many obscure details. But this book is far from being a mere history lesson. It's a gripping tale, with characters you can relate to on many levels, who are caught up in a time of unstoppable change. We see Columbus and the others as part of a larger picture. The reader's interest never flags.
Beth_Hoffman More than 1 year ago
Set in Spain during the 15th Century, BY FIRE, BY WATER is a gorgeously executed book that exemplifies historical fiction at its finest. Written with intelligence and beautifully rendered prose, the story is vivid and as complex as a medieval tapestry. Mitchell Kaplan has seamlessly brought together themes of love, theology, politics, brutality and the deepest longings and treacheries of highly complex characters. He does this while remaining true to the most delicate (and horrific) historical facts of the Spanish Inquisition. With tremendous research and a surgeon's skill, Kaplan peels back, layer by layer, a time in history that is as unspeakably brutal as it is heartbreakingly beautiful. By threading so many fascinating facts (many of which are beautifully nuanced) into the story while giving the characters breath and blood and believability, BY FIRE, BY WATER accomplishes a rarity in historical fiction-a read that is riveting and unputdownable. I was drawn into the lives of Luis de Santángel, King Ferdinad and Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus, and Judith Midgal, and I was mesmerized. Mitchell Kaplan has crafted a masterpiece that shouldn't be missed. Historical fiction simply doesn't get any better than this. Highly recommended!
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
The Inquisition was a tribunal set by the Roman Catholics for uncovering heresy, and which initially started during the medieval time period in France. It subsequently made its way to Spain in the late 1400s, and focused on Jews and New Christians. Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand petitioned the Pope to establish the tribunals and Inquisition, and once approved, the beginning of a period of sadness began, with the eventual expulsion of all Jews in 1492 from Spain. Why have I only heard in quick passing the Inquisition and the actual horrors that surrounded this event? Sure, I know a little bit about this tragic event in history, but do I really know enough? Two days with Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel, By Fire, By Water has made me so energized to learn more about this time period, that I'm scrambling for additional knowledge. There are so many characters that I absolutely loved, and some that I completely and thoroughly despised because of their participation in such a sordid event. All, though, are plagued with an internal battle of right and wrong, and some deal with it in an honest and ethical manner in the spirit of ultimate discussion and the meeting of the minds, while some betrayed the very nature of humanity and instead became a vile part of history. Mitchell James Kaplan has done what incredible historical fiction does best -- he has centered a story around a monumental event in history, attached to it etched in time real people, and crafted a meaningful and captivating tale of life in the late 14th century. There is terror, betrayal, love, and most especially, loss. And my heart absolutely broke in two at the end. I highly recommend this book and am excited to read more from this author.
wendyroba More than 1 year ago
Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel is set in fifteenth century Spain during the time of the New Inquisition when King Fernando and Queen Ysabel were waging war and expelling all Jews from Spain. This period is also remembered for Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and his discovery of the Western Hemisphere. Kaplan has taken all of these events and created an historical novel of depth, passion and faith which held me spellbound. Luis de Santangel, a converso (the Spanish term which designates a person whose parents or grandparents abandoned their Jewish faith and embraced Christianity.usually under duress) and chancellor to the throne, takes center stage in By Fire, By Water. Horrified by what the Inquisition is doing, Luis finds himself deeply conflicted by his Christian faith. He longs to understand the differences between the Jewish and Christian beliefs. This struggle leads him to engage in secret meetings with a Jewish scribe and several others to learn more about the faith his family abandoned. When a close friend is arrested and dies, Luis becomes enraged at a system that punishes those who dare question the edicts and beliefs of the Church. His choice to silence the Chief Inquisitor of Aragon (Pedro de Arbues) puts his life and the lives of his family in danger. A parallel story - that of a Jewish silversmith who is raising her orphaned nephew in the endangered city of Granada - is seamlessly inserted into the novel. Judith Migdal is a strong, inspiring character.and it is no surprise when her path crosses Luis' as the Spanish war machine grinds ever closer to her home. By Fire, By Water closely follows the historical record, but it is also very much a novel.bringing to life the streets of fifteenth century Spain, the horrors of the Inquisition (Kaplan does not spare readers the brutal torture endured by those arrested), and the drama of the time period when new lands were being discovered by sea exploration. Big, passionate, brilliantly written, full of court intrigue and religious politics, I loved this novel. I read the last half of the book in one afternoon, unable to lay it aside until I knew what would happen. Kaplan's descriptions are gorgeous. He effortlessly transports the reader into the past. He also brings forth the questions of the time: What were the motivations of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel? Were they simply religious fanatics, or were financial considerations the primary reason for supporting the Inquisition and the ultimate expulsion of the Jews from Spain? Kaplan writes in his author's note at the end of the book: "The purpose of a historical novel is to locate and reveal the dramatic core of history." If that is the purpose, then I would congratulate Kaplan on achieving it. By Fire, By Water is a must read for historical fiction fans, especially those interested in fifteenth century Spain. Highly recommended.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From My Blog...An in-depth historical journey into the Spanish Inquisitions occurring throughout 15th century Spain under the rule of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel, Mitchell James Kaplan takes his readers to two very different sections of Spain; the predominately Christian section of Zaragoza and the Jewish settlement within Muslim Granada where Kaplan details the lives of the families and the effects the New Inquisition has upon them in Kaplan¿s stunning debut novel By Fire, By Water.In Zaragoza lives Luis de Santangel, the royal chancellor of Aragon, a Christian whose ancestors were Jewish making him in effect a converses and therefore potentially in danger. Santangel goes to great lengths to stop the New Inquisition by first traveling to Rome with Cristobal Colon, also known as Christoffa Colombo, to request the Pope¿s assistance to cease the persecution of the converses in Spain. During their voyage home, Cristobal hides documents in Santangel¿s trunk in hopes of persuading the chancellor to convince King Fernando to finance his travels to Cipangu, the West Indies and from there, on to Jerusalem. These documents bring together an unlikely group of men and a very dangerous mission. Meanwhile in Granada, where the Inquisitors are near, Judith Migdal learns of the death of her brother and sister-in-law. While grieving she knows she must somehow provide for her nephew, Levi, and his grandfather, Baba Shlomo. Judith pleads with Baba Shlomo to teach her to be a silversmith, borrows money from Azoulay, and learns to read and write from her friend Dina Benatar. The craft comes in far handier than merely supplying an income for Judith and her family.Kaplan writes in a vivid and fluid manner, his characters are realistic, the scenes at times almost too vividly described, yet realistic and believable. It is evident that Kaplan has done extensive research into the Inquisitions in Spain, the war against Granada, The travels of Columbo as well as the New Inquisition, which appears to only be concerned with the heresy of ¿judaizing¿. By Fire, By Water is a breathtaking journey back to the 15th century, to a time of fear, death, hope,faith and discovery. Kaplan quite masterfully details the times and the feelings of the people and By Fire, By Water is a brilliant debut by Mitchell James Kaplan and what I hope to be just the beginning of his writing career. I would not hesitate to recommend By Fire, By Water to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or has not read historical fiction before but enjoys an extremely well written book. By Fire, By Water would make an excellent discussion group choice.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿We must recover that book. The log of his testimony.¿ Turning back to the priest, he affirmed aloud what they both knew. ¿And the canon, he must die. Pedro de Arbues,¿ he nodded slowly, ¿must die before he destroys you, me, and our associates.¿Caceres lowered his voice. ¿I know the man to do it. A horseman. A Basque. A skilled assassin.¿They looked into each other¿s eyes. It occurred to Santangel that if he had ever felt anything akin to Christian love, it was in this moment, in their shared hatred. ¿ from By Fire, By Water, page 74 -Mitchell James Kaplan¿s debut novel is set in fifteenth century Spain during the time of the New Inquisition when King Fernando and Queen Ysabel were waging war and expelling all Jews from Spain. This period is also remembered for Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and his discovery of the Western Hemisphere. Kaplan has taken all of these events and created an historical novel of depth, passion and faith which held me spellbound.Luis de Santangel, a converso (the Spanish term which designates a person whose parents or grandparents abandoned their Jewish faith and embraced Christianity¿usually under duress) and chancellor to the throne, takes center stage in By Fire, By Water. Horrified by what the Inquisition is doing, Luis finds himself deeply conflicted by his Christian faith. He longs to understand the differences between the Jewish and Christian beliefs. This struggle leads him to engage in secret meetings with a Jewish scribe and several others to learn more about the faith his family abandoned.With Abram Serero, Luis de Santangel explored ideas that had intrigued him all his life. He argued about the nature of truth, God¿s role in history, justice, and love. He came to feel an intellectual enfranchisement he had never felt before, invigorating and empowering. The freedom to navigate between the great ideas and sentiments of his own faith and that of his grandfather was a rare privilege. ¿ from By Fire, By Water, page 52 -When a close friend is arrested and dies, Luis becomes enraged at a system that punishes those who dare question the edicts and beliefs of the Church. His choice to silence the Chief Inquisitor of Aragon (Pedro de Arbues) puts his life and the lives of his family in danger.A parallel story ¿ that of a Jewish silversmith who is raising her orphaned nephew in the endangered city of Granada ¿ is seamlessly inserted into the novel. Judith Migdal is a strong, inspiring character¿and it is no surprise when her path crosses Luis¿ as the Spanish war machine grinds ever closer to her home.By Fire, By Water closely follows the historical record, but it is also very much a novel¿bringing to life the streets of fifteenth century Spain, the horrors of the Inquisition (Kaplan does not spare readers the brutal torture endured by those arrested), and the drama of the time period when new lands were being discovered by sea exploration.Big, passionate, brilliantly written, full of court intrigue and religious politics, I loved this novel. I read the last half of the book in one afternoon, unable to lay it aside until I knew what would happen. Kaplan¿s descriptions are gorgeous. He effortlessly transports the reader into the past. He also brings forth the questions of the time: What were the motivations of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel? Were they simply religious fanatics, or were financial considerations the primary reason for supporting the Inquisition and the ultimate expulsion of the Jews from Spain?Kaplan writes in his author¿s note at the end of the book:The purpose of a historical novel is to locate and reveal the dramatic core of history.If that is the purpose, then I would congratulate Kaplan on achieving it. By Fire, By Water is a must read for historical fiction fans, especially those interested in fifteenth century Spain.Highly recommended.
Sara_Anderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was prepared to like this book. I truly was. Kaplan covers a lot of ground and has clearly done so by conducting vast amounts of research on his subjects: Christopher Columbus, Isabella & Ferdinand, the New Inquisition and the expulsion of Spain¿s Jewish population. It felt to me, though, as if he has written this book only to sell the movie rights. The writing, while precise, is bloodless. I wanted very much to connect more deeply with Luis de Santangel and Judith Midgala, but I found I could not. Kaplan writes (cinematographically, as his background perhaps dictates) in short bursts of 200 and 300 words, with quick cuts to other scenes, which left me feeling distant from the characters. I wanted more than this book afforded.
kw50197 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-written and research. But not my cup of tea though.
michcard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eh. Hard to put down, but not as satisfying as I would have liked. I'll keep the book as I'd read it again, but it's bubblegum.
blodeuedd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was such a beautifully written book, readers often say that it felt like they were there. But this one truly brought that out. There was a movie slowly playing in my head while reading this book.Luis de Santángel is rich and powerful, but three generations back he was a Jew and being a Jew or of Jewish origin in 15th century Spain is dangerous. Converted Jews are being hunted, those still holding on to their faith suffer under taxes. The Spanish inquisition was truly cruel. It is an era I have not actually read about before and it brings danger and drama, it gives flavour to this book.The history in this book about how he starts having these talk about the Jewish faith, then another man joins, and there things get out of control. Suffering will follow. I could go on and on about religion and so on. But I will keep it short and say that some people back then were idiots for the things they believed, I wanted to go back and shout at them. And then I would have been burnt at the stake. The things done and said in religion are the things that truly make me lose faith in mankind. Ok I will end it there before I go all philosophical.There is also a hint of romance, he meets a silver-smith, a Jewess in Granada. But Granada is about to fall soon because Ferdinand and Isabella wants a Christian kingdom that covers the whole of Spain.It's a story about faith, murder, persecution, and the idea about the Garden of Eden and how Christopher Columbus meant to find it.In the end it is one of those times that I just feel that my words alone cannot bring justice to this book.Recommendation and final thoughts:I do love language, and hear that really shines through. He has written a book that echoes times gone by. He brings a presence to this book and I read little by little, not too much at once. This is a book to read slowly.This is a book for all historical fictions fans, and the rest of you that appreciate a well-written book and story.Reason for reading:Everyone loved this book, and that sure made me curious.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Spanish Inquisition looms large in Kaplan's By Fire, By Water. The central character, Luis de Santangel, a powerful courtier to the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, is a Christian of Jewish descent who begins to rediscover the faith of his ancestors in the course of the novel. He also becomes involved with a Jewish woman living in the Muslim state of Grenada, Judith Migdal. However, Luis goes to great lengths to protect his appearance of a dutiful Christian servant of the King and to avoid running afoul of the Inquisition, even taking some morally questionable actions. I greatly enjoyed this novel, but its conclusion was far from happy. The characters suffer a great deal in this novel, as might be expected in consideration of the themes. The author has also maintained a good deal of historical accuracy, which makes the characters feel more believable and real.
jcwlib on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
**Full Disclosure: Received this book via a First Author event at ALA Annual Conference in June**Set in 15th century Spain, By Fire By Water gives a full examination of the crisis of faith at the hear of the Spanish Inquisition. Told from the perspective of the conversos who are torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety.Luis de Santangel, chancellor to the court in Aragon, starts to meet with a priest and one of his aides in secret debating the philosophies of different religions. The aide, who is a practicing Jew, gets questioned by the Chief Inquisitor of Aragon. Under pressure he gives up information about the meetings causing Luis and the priest to plot and kill the Inquistor. From the moment of the murder, Luis and his son Gabriel are on the run. Luis leaves Gabriel with his brother Estefan and moves on to be with the King who is fighting a war against the Muslims.Gabriel and Estefan get picked up by the Grand Inquistor. Estefan ends up being tortured and put in jail. Gabriel decides to become a priest a "confess" his "sins". Luis is forced to give up any relationship with either of them. Judith, a Jew living in Grenada, learns the silver making trade after her brother and wife die trying to escape religious persecution. Levi, their son, and Naomi's father Baba Shlomo live with Judith. Her friend Dina teaches her languages and how to read and write. Luis meets Judith one night and is immediately attracted to her. She sets up a trade with Chris Colon (Christopher Columbus) to exchange her silver for supplies. Luis ends up having to call in a favor with the King to escape the investigations of the Inquistor. Luis ends up fiancing Chris Colon's exploration to the new world. At the end of the book he is left with no family or lover, just a lifetime of service to the court.I enjoyed this book because it told the Christopher Columbus story from a different angle. Plus the book really challenged my views on different religions and brought the Spanish Inquisition alive. It's easy to forget that being able to worship in any means that you want is a freedom that took many years in coming. And a freedom that not everyone is able to enjoy. I picked up this book on a whim after listening to Mitchell speak at the conference. While it wasn't the one of the first books from the conference that I read, I will say its one of the better ARC that I picked up from the conference.
amusingmother on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This historical novel is set in the pivotal time period of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World, the New Inquisition, conquest of Granada, and expulsion of Jews from Spain. Here's the scoop - Isabella and Ferdinand are the ruling sovereigns of Spain. There is general mistrust in the country regarding the coverted Jews to Christianity. The protagonist, Luis de Santangel, is an actual man who consorted with Christopher Columbus, held an office in the court of Isabella and Ferdinand, and was Jewish by blood, although not by belief, necessarily. Mistrust is a far too weak of a word for the feelings of converts by Christians. Paranoia is much more accurate. Tomas de Torquemada had the fantastic idea to start an Inquisition. Except his idea of an inquisition was not to merely inquire of one's beliefs, but to torture, in the most brutal of ways, the accused until s/he confessed and named names. Anybody could accuse another. All were fair game. The novel includes a scenario where the protagonist and a few others casually study Judaism. One of the men is arrested, tortured, and dies before his "trial." Meanwhile, there is a transcript of his confessed sins. The best way to deal with this transcript is to steal it and kill the inquisitor, Pedro de Arbues. The group of men hire another to murder to inquisitor.True to history, Arbues is murdered in a cathedral. The Inquisition plants the belief that the murderers were conversos and the Inquisition becomes something from a Freddie Krueger movie. Santangel is a suspect and his family is obliterated. Okay, that was spoiler without an alert. Sorry about that. But that is historically correct. Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus is attempting to obtain financing and ships to explore his hypothesis that India can be reached by sailing west. Not only that, but Columbus holds in his possession ancient Jewish writings. One of which being apocryphal and quite dangerous. Columbus continues to use the ties he has with Luis to gain acceptance and funding for his exploration.Of course, an Inquisition tends to be quite expensive. The king and queen are not prepared to finance such lunacy as sailing "around" the world. Okay, that last part I exaggerated. It was becoming quite fashionable to accept that the earth was not flat. Isabella and Ferdinand, being a bit on the paranoid side, decided it was time to stake their claim on Granada and drive out all the Jews.This is where the fictitious Judith enters the story. Judith represents the Jewish people in Granada. She is Jewish but also Spanish. Through her experiences, the reader will understand how the Crown treated the Jews at this time. I can not believe this is Mitch Kaplan's first novel. The time period is so intricate yet he weaves each of the conflicts together through the protagonist. Without being superfluous, he describes the beauty of Spain, along with the architecture, in a visceral manner. The story moves along succinctly yet includes all the necessary information to understand the conflict and history. Kaplan is a screenwriter and, I swear, I heard the orchestra crescendo at the end of certain scenes. The history is incredibly well researched. The novel is intriguing yet does not detract from history, which is interesting by itself. And extremely gross. Torture on "the rack" and death by burning described in detail. Reviewer's editorial on irony: This period of history is not one I knew well, by any means. I found it fascinating (with the help of a great book) and realized the irony of what was not included in this book because it was not relevant to this story.Henry VIII of England had six wives. His first wife could not produce a viable son so he wanted to divorce her. Of course, Catholicism frowned on that so Henry decided to start his own Christian-like church where he would be the pope equivalent. So he put his first wife away with their daughter, Mary so that he could marry the saucy, and
coffeeandabookchick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Historical Fiction at Its Finest.The Inquisition was a tribunal set by the Roman Catholics for uncovering heresy, and which initially started during the medieval time period in France. It subsequently made its way to Spain in the late 1400s, and focused on Jews and New Christians. Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand petitioned the Pope to establish the tribunals and Inquisition, and once approved, the beginning of a period of sadness began, with the eventual expulsion of all Jews in 1492 from Spain. Why have I only heard in quick passing the Inquisition and the actual horrors that surrounded this event? Sure, I know a little bit about this tragic event in history, but do I really know enough?Two days with Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel, By Fire, By Water has made me so energized to learn more about this time period, that I'm scrambling for additional knowledge. There are so many characters that I absolutely loved, and some that I completely and thoroughly despised because of their participation in such a sordid event. All, though, are plagued with an internal battle of right and wrong, and some deal with it in an honest and ethical manner in the spirit of ultimate discussion and the meeting of the minds, while some betrayed the very nature of humanity and instead became a vile part of history. Mitchell James Kaplan has done what incredible historical fiction does best -- he has centered a story around a monumental event in history, attached to it etched in time real people, and crafted a meaningful and captivating tale of life in the late 14th century. There is terror, betrayal, love, and most especially, loss.And my heart absolutely broke in two at the end. I highly recommend this book and am excited to read more from this author.
bolgai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am absolutely delighted to tell you about this book because this is one of those rare reads where everything is just right. A while back the author contacted me asking for a review of his debut novel and having never read anything set in Spain of that era I decided to give it a try. Reading it last week I congratulated myself on this decision more than once. This is an intelligent, well-written novel that combines drama, history, politics and, to a lesser degree, romance. I really enjoyed the characters of the honorable Luis de Santangel, the resilient Judith, and the supporting cast who all played a role in the events. Sometimes it would seem that a completely new character was introduced for no observable reason but then time would pass and this seemingly-insignificant character's contribution would become obvious, be it to further the plot, make the setting more vivid, or aid in the development of the main characters. No character arc was left incomplete and seeing them all develop was deeply satisfying. This isn't really a straightforward set the goal - overcome difficulties - achieve the goal type of novel. Cristobal Colon's endeavor to obtain the monarchs' support in sailing to India is a secondary plot. It is the life of Luis de Santangel and his struggle with his heritage at a time when practicing anything other than Christianity was a sure way to the stake is at the foreground of this story. The life of Judith and her family provides an excellent contrast by giving us a glimpse of a life the Jewish community had in Muslim Granada. Mr. Kaplan spent six years doing research for this book and the work he's done brings a lot of credibility to the novel. The details shine through on every page and fortunately he didn't let history and theological debate overpower the story, at the end of the day it was still about Luis, Judith and their loved ones. Usually at this point I talk about things that didn't work for me. Today there isn't anything for me to say. Go get this book. Read it. Enjoy it. This is a quality novel that is worth reading regardless of whether you're a fan of historical fiction or not.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Living in 15th century Spain, Luis de Santángel has just been caught in the cross-hairs of the new Inquisition. Santángel is a very wealthy and respected member of the community and also the chancellor to Fernando, the King of Aragon. But he is also a Jewish covert to Christianity, and when he begins to cast about looking for information and edification of his forgotten and displaced faith, he and his family are put into great danger. Though Santángel tries to exercise discretion and stealth in regards to his new curiosity, he attracts the attention of Thomas Torquemada, the leader of the new Inquisition, who goes to great and torturous lengths to punish both nonbelievers and those who he believes to be escaping from the fold. As Spain struggles to dominate and unify its kingdoms under severe Christian rule and Christopher Columbus petitions Ysabel and Fernando to finance a trip to the prosperous Indies, Santángel's once envious life begins to unravel. Meanwhile, Judith Migdal, a Jewish woman living in Granada, is facing her own trials. After losing half her family to tragedy, Judith must reorganize her life and learn the difficult craft of silversmithing in order to provide for the remaining family members. When a chance meeting between Santángel and Judith occurs, the two are inexplicably drawn towards one another, forcing each to examine the strength of their beliefs and the ways in which their futures may intersect. In this intricately crafted and exceptionally researched new historical novel, Kaplan brings to life a cast of characters who are caught in the craze of a dangerous religious fervor and explores the way in which those people remain true to themselves and to those that they love.In the past few months, I have read quite a bit about the Inquisition and the effects it had on the people it persecuted. This has actually been a rather new area for me to study, and the more I'm exposed to it in the books I read, the more questions I have. What I really liked about this book was the way the repercussions for those affected were examined with great depth and sensitivity. After finally closing the book for the last time, I really felt it was the best representation of those fateful events that I could have sought out and read.From the outset, it was clear to me that Luis de Santángel had an extremely comfortable life. Aside from his wealth and position, he had a family that loved and supported him, and I can imagine that it wasn't bad to have the king's ear and attention when he needed it. But Luis was hungering for something that he didn't have access to in his everyday life. He wanted answers about the faith that he was forced to leave behind, knowing that seeking these answers would endanger everything he held dear. I don't even think it was a matter of Luis wanting to convert back to Judaism. I think it was more a way for him to hold on to the values and ideals of his ancestors and a way for him to puzzle out some of the deeper questions he had about God. Luis' was a quest for knowledge, but in its discovery, his intentions got misconstrued and perverted. Although he tried to mitigate the disaster, the powers against him were too strong to resist successfully.The representation of the Inquisition brought forth a lot of questions while I was reading. How does one man, or one group of men, come to believe that they can accurately police the spirituality that lives in another's soul? Indeed, what would God think about this? My religious education has taught me that God is a being of mercy and love who forgives those with sincerity in their hearts. But the Inquisitors had no room for mercy or forgiveness, and dealt with people brutally, leaving no room for those who were spiritually adrift or who questioned their faith. These men had an agenda that I believe was not from God, and I began to feel that all their punishments were only meant to dominate and subjugate those who they felt were spiritually unworthy. I can't ima
BookcrazyAK More than 1 year ago
Superb, literary historical novel. We hear all the time about books that are well reviewed, get accolades, and we readers who follow such recommendations sometimes feel let down. But you will not feel that way about this little gem that comes from a prestigious independent publisher. It deserves all the recognition and prizes it was won.
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