When Professor Henner Marcus receives an urgent plea from his niece, Nina Aschauer, he leaves Chicago behind and travels 5,000 miles to France. Nina has finally materialized after a five-year absence, and he is anxious to help her with the trouble she appears to be in.
A historian, Nina is irresistibly driven to explore the Pyrenees Mountains for the location of her birth, occurring as her parents fled the Nazis. All she knows is that the name of the place is Valladine, but the name is not found on any map. Her inquiries lead her to an encounter with Alphonse de Sola, a rough-hewn shepherd who offers to take her there. What she finds is love, a medieval outpost arrested in time, and a written codex that thrusts her into the world of Dina Miryan, a medieval Jewish woman.
As Henner, Nina, and her best friend, Etoile Assous, decipher the writing, they are irresistibly drawn into the story of this fourteenth-century woman, whose family had fled France following the expulsion in 1306, but who herself had fallen victim to the sexual intrigues of a fiendish priest. The three find themselves embroiled in a world of mystery, adventure, and danger spanning historical bounds.
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DINA'S LOST TRIBEA Novel
By Brigitte Goldstein
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Brigitte Goldstein
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDina's Tale Begins
I breathe! I breathe free! We all can breathe free at long, long last. The pall is lifted, the stranglehold gripping my throat loosened. I fling open the shutters in the early morning mist. My nostrils widen, my lungs fill with the clear mountain air streaming in with the rising sun. My heart beats with joy; my voice soars like a lark's. The echo of my voice resounds with "The mountains skip like rams; the hills like young sheep!" It is here, on this blessed piece of earth, in this valley ringed with granite turrets that we shall build our lives, our future. Not so much my future anymore as your future, my sons. This is your inheritance, my bequest to you. May all that is past remain behind us; let us embrace the future. The Lord G-d of Israel has seen my affliction. He has heard my entreaties and has forgiven my sins. The G-d of Moses who freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and guided them to the Promised Land, in that spirit, he has set me free as well. This mountain valley is our promised land, my sons! True, I was accorded this giftsome may regard it as a gift, when in reality, this precious piece of earth is my just reward through the good offices of a Christian holy man now in Avignon, the erstwhile inquisitor of Pamiers. But I am certain it was the G-d of Israel who used him as His tool to carry out His divine will. I have no doubt it was He, the Eternal, who softened his heart toward a woman in distress. Like Job, she was beaten down, lost everything, endured humiliation and servitude; now she has been restored to life through the grace of G-d. He heard of her plight, He heard her moaning; He answered her prayers. Let us rejoice, my sons! Let us praise the G-d of Israel, our benefactor.
In my years of darkness, those friendless years devoid of hope, you, my sons, were my only light, my consolation. You made my dark world luminous. You made an unbearable fate bearable. You even brought me moments of joywhen I held you in my arms, when I saw you growing into manhood. And now you too are free from the curse of your birth. The mark of shame has been wiped from your forehead. You are no longer outcasts, bastards; no one will ever again shun you, spit at you, curse you. You are free men now! Do you understand what this means?
Then why the muttering in the shadows? Why the doleful miens? The suspicious stares? Why the doubts, the whispers, reproachful glancesyes, even secret accusations? I see the questions in your eyes. I feel them burning in my back. I sense them even when you lower your eyes at the table or when I pass you in the fields, as you build your homes here in this mountain valley. I know you would not confront your mother openly. But I am not so blind as not to sense what tears at your souls. You want to know what made me do what I did. You have a right to know. He was the man who fathered you. You are flesh of his flesh. His blood flows in your veins. But that is all; he is nothing else to you. You owe him nothingno loyalty, no love, no respect, no honor. Remember it was he who condemned you to the status of bastardry; he left you exposed to the scorn and derision of the lowliest of peasants. He dishonored your mother, kept her in a perpetual state of degradation and bondage, lower than the swineherd in the village. Remember, it was your mother who raised you, who instructed you in the teachings of her people. It was she who told you about the glory of our forefathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She taught you about Moses the lawgiver, she recalled the stories of David and Solomon, the kings of the ancient Israelite realm. She also nursed you on the many stories of persecution and suffering my people, your people, had endured since the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. She told you these stories in secret, for these heretic villagers scoffed at our scriptures, what we call Tanakh and Christians call the Old Testament. The man who was your father paraded as a good Christian, a priest ordained in the Roman Church. In reality, he was the devil in priestly garb, a wolf in sheepskin, a fornicator and a deceiver, a depraved miscreant from whom no woman in this mountain region was safe.
Why should I feel remorse for what I did, for having brought him to justice when the time was propitious? For years he hid his heretic faith. Only I knew that he was a traitor to the Church. So little did he think of me; he had no care that I might denounce him. So sure was he that I was his slave, that he controlled not only my body, but also my mind and my soul. I did not rejoice when the flames of the Inquisition devoured the body he had indulged and had mingled with mine, nor did I mourn. My body and mind remained mute, my heart numb, insentient like stone. Only much later, when the realization set in that he was gone, never to return, that never again would he enter my bed at will, never again would my body be degraded by his lewd desire, I broke down in tears of joy.
Harsh, hardhearted words? Maybe. And an even harsher punishment for behavior that might seem nothing more than all too human weakness! A priest's fiendish nature was, of course, of little concern to the Church. The Inquisition was after greater aberrations. The shibboleth was heresy. Death by fire was the fate of those convicted of spreading heretical beliefs, teachings contrary to those of the Church that would undermine the power of the Holy See. This was not my concern, of course. I wanted to be rid of the priest. I wanted to be free. Surely not through a death as terrible as the one he ultimately endured. But in the end, it was the only way, the only way I would be delivered from an odious existence. The Inquisitor of Pamiers was kind to me and kept his word; even after he had become pope in Avignon, he remembered his promise. You may think I made a pact with the devil, that I sold my soul to the prince of darkness. Some of the villagers shouted "Judas!" at me from the carts that carried them to the stake. I owe no justification to the world, to my tormentors. Only to you, my sons, do I owe anything. To understand what moved me, you have to know the whole story, how I came to such misfortune. I seek neither your forgiveness nor your pity, only understanding, to wipe the slate clean. Let me relate what happened, not only to me, but also to you, my sons, so you can judge whether I had cause to do what I did. At the same time, I want you to know where you come from. I want you to be aware of the story of your family. I want you to tell this story to your children so they can tell it to their children and on down through the generations. So it will never be forgotten, I want you to enjoin your children and their children to tell this story like the story that is being told every year by my people about their delivery from bondage in Egypt.
My life was changed forever on the 22nd day of July of what Christians call the Year of the Lord 1306. But my people use a different counting. They begin with the creation of the world, and that day of villainy fell on the tenth day of the month of Av in the year 5066. This date is burned into my memory forever. I was sixteen years old.
Before I go on, I must explain to you the significance of this particular day in the history of our people. The ninth day of that month, Tisha b'Av in our holy tongue, is a very somber day. Every year on that day, they sit in sackcloth and ashes on the floor of their houses, mourning the destruction of the temple, the House of G-d, which once stood in Jerusalem. Twice this holy place was laid waste on that same day in the calendar. The Babylonians, an ancient people dedicated to war and conquest, erased and plundered the temple our King Solomon had built and forced the people into exile. Then, many centuries later, after they had returned and rebuilt the holy of holies, the Romans, heathen ancestors of the Roman Church, ransacked the holy city and its temple, expelled the Jewish people from their land, and dispersed them among the heathens.
It was one day after this day of mourning that the royal order, which had gone out from the north, reached us here in the south. The decree stated the express will of the king of France, the fair Philippe, fair of face and evil of heart, who had only recently become overlord of the southern parts of French regions, that all Jews must leave his kingdom forthwith.
The writing was in clear, unaffected, medieval Occitan, a language still spoken today in the area of southwestern France called Languedoc. It had been copied in a careful hand onto a modern notebook as commonly used by French students. The history of the expulsion of the Jews from France by Philippe the Fair was not new to me. In fact, one might say, I was an expert on the subject. I held a professorship in French medieval Jewish philosophy at a well-known university in Chicago. My reputation as a scholar of this period rests firmly on a long list of publications. But in all my years of research in French, German, Spanish, and Italian archives, I had never come across any reference to a Jewish woman separated from her family and people during that great upheaval of the expulsion. Unable to consult a reference work or notes, I felt lost like a wanderer in a strange forest. Where could this have come from? Was there more? I leafed through the empty pages of the notebook, looking for more, with a palpitating heart. Nothing. So-called discoveries of old manuscripts were not uncommon and somebodywhoever had sent this to mewanted to get my endorsement for some scheme. Then again, very few people were fluent enough in Occitan to produce such a text. The language certainly had an aura of authenticity. I kept flipping the pages as if to make the information appear by magic. I flung it down several times only to pick it up again. I jumped up from the desk chair in the small hotel room where I was staying and reached for the telephone to call room service. The voice that answered was not too delighted by that late night disturbance. An eternity seemed to pass before someone knocked on the door. Finally, a sleepy boy presented me with the cognac I had ordered. As I fumbled for some change in my pocket, I almost tipped over the glass. Alone again, I gulped down the golden liquid and immediately began to feel its calming effect. I took a deep breath, washed my face in the sink, and set my mind to the conundrum at hand, but mercifully fell asleep before the demon seized me again.
Upon enquiring the concierge the next morning, I was told that a boy from the neighborhood dropped the package off and disappeared quickly. It all smacked far too much of a B movie scenario. It simply made no sense, especially since I had come to Toulouse at the request of someone I knew very well, or had known very well when we were children. In fact, we were first cousins. As adults, we had gone different ways. Besides, I was ten years older and had flown the family coop that much earlier.
The letter with the urgent request was from my cousin Nina. It reached me just as I was preparing to depart for my summer vacation at a quiet lake in upper Minnesota. My vacations always consisted of quiet time spent writing, to which I looked forward after the bustle of teaching and other university business that made it difficult to gather the thoughts, or summon the muse, during the academic year. So a sudden trip to Toulouse, even though the town was dear to me, having taught and done research at the university there, was at that moment not exactly opportune. Besides, how could I know that the letter actually came from my cousin Nina? Since we had never been in the habit of correspondingwe kept abreast of each other's movements and vagaries only through the family grapevineI could not tell whether it was her handwriting. Then again, if someone wanted to deceive me for some reason, that someone would, it seemed to me, have used a typewriter rather than composing a letter by hand. Then there was one other consideration that made me decide to put off my writing vacation by the lake and look closer into this matter. My cousin Nina Aschauer had disappeared without a trace in the mountains of southern France five years before. No one knew of her whereabouts, not even her mother. I had often wondered whether she was still alive. Now this sign of life.
The letter contained several indications that it actually came from her, and that in fact it could only have come from her. It addressed me in German with "Lieber Henner" before going on in English. I am professionally known as Henry Marcus, and my friends call me Hank. The name of my birth, Heinrich Markus, had never become known outside the family circle, and certainly not my family nickname of Henner. The only other person who would know this name, a not very common form, was Nina's mother, who lived in New Jersey. My parents and the other family members who had come to America as refugees from Germany in 1941 had all passed away. The idea that Aunt Hedy, this lonely, aggrieved woman, would compose such a letter was absurd. What reason would she have? Her English, too, was never all that good, and the postmark was from a French town.
Besides an urgent plea for me to come to Toulouse without delay, the letter also contained some precise instructions regarding what to do and where to go when I got here. She needed money, a sizable sum of money, and it had to be in francs. Maybe I could somehow make a withdrawal from her bank account in New York? A rather illusory suggestion. In fact, the whole tone of the letter had something unreal. I would have to dip into my own funds, which I was willing to do, if only for my Aunt Hedy's peace of mind. The rest of Nina's instructions were unequivocal. I was to check into a specific hotel near the Toulouse railroad station, a place, as it turned out, with the ambience of a flophouse. I should wait for her to contact me there. She was sorry, but she could not meet me at the airport.
Despite misgivings, I was willing to put up with this disruption to my encrusted routine. After all, she was family and my favorite cousin. Actually, she was my only cousin, and until we lost sight of each other, we always had a close relationship. She was the reason that I looked forward to family gatherings on holidays and especially on Passover when we stayed together for the entire week. She was like a little sister to me, and I felt protective of her like an older brother. If she was in trouble, and it certainly sounded like she was deep into something perilous, and needed my help, I would not and could not leave her in whatever lurch she was in. So I sallied forth like the knight in shining armor to rescue the damsel in distress. Yet, I could not suppress a creeping sense that I might indeed be embarking on a kind of quixotic adventure. I was sober enough to make one more attempt to verify the authenticity of the handwriting, just to make sure that I wasn't falling for some con scheme whose purpose I was as yet unable to fathom. I decided to use the stopover in New York to pay my aunt in New Jersey a visit.
Surprisingly, I found her in an almost elated disposition, in contrast to the doleful mood I had left her in during a visit several years before. She too had received a letter from Ninathe first sign of life in five years. Nina assured her that she was well and apologized for not having been able to write sooner due to circumstances she would not or could not describe. She asked her mother's forgiveness and patience. Hopefully they would see each other soon. Where this reunion would take place, she did not specify. A comparison of the letters showed that the handwriting was identical, and Aunt Hedy assured me that it was indeed Nina's. I examined both envelopes and noticed one discrepancy, which I kept to myself. The postmarks differed. The letter to me had been posted in the town of Augen, and the one to my aunt bore the stamp of the town of Montauban. Both towns are located in the same region in southwestern France and not all too far apart. Yet, it made me wonder what might be behind this, especially since I had been asked to come to Toulouse. Did she move from place to place? And if so, why? There was no return address on either letter. Why the mystery? Why this holding back of information? No word to either me or her mother about where she had been for almost five years. What she had been doing in all that time remained a mystery.
"You know, Henner, Nina came back a changed person from her sabbatical year in France," Aunt Hedy told me.
"That was at the University of Toulouse in 1972, wasn't it?" I said. "I remember you telling me."
"Exactly. She came home sick in body and soul, Henner, as if she had caught something. But that wasn't really it." Aunt Hedy shook her head, still not understanding.
"Could have been psychological," I ventured.
Excerpted from DINA'S LOST TRIBE by Brigitte Goldstein Copyright © 2010 by Brigitte Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dina's Lost Tribe is a historical novel that weaves four different stories and spans from the 14th century to our present time. Henner Marcus is a professor of French Medieval Jewish Philosophy based in Chicago. One day he receives a letter from his cousin, Nina Aschauer, who's been missing for the last five years. A historian with a brilliant, promising career, she had left Chicago and travelled to France in search of the place she was accidentally born while her parents fled from the Nazis, a remote village in the Pyranees by the name of Valladine, a place not even present in maps. In the letter, Nina urgently begs him to meet her in Toulouse with a large sum of money. Deeply intrigued and out of concern for his cousin's safety, Henner makes the 5,000-mile trip. Once in Toulouse, he receives an unexpected package containing a mysterious manuscript. The manuscript appears to be a codex written in medieval Occitan, a language still spoken today in the area of Languedoc. Henner also meets Etoile, a historian and Nina's best friend. Together, Henner and Etoile begin deciphering the codex and soon become entranced by the fascinating first-person account and by its author, Dina, a Jewess born into a wealthy, pious family who falls prey to a deceitful, lustful priest and eventually ended up incarcerated in the prison of the Inquisition. Her tale describes the expulsion of the Jews from France in the early 1300s. Thus the novel moves back and forth in time and interweaves Henner's, Nina's, Etoile's and Dina's persecution stories. Who is this Dina Miryam? Did she really exist? Is her account real? How is her story connected to Nina's and why did Nina disappear five years ago into a presumed village no one knows about? Dina's Lost Tribe is an interesting, at times engrossing read. The author does a skillful job in keeping each story distinct in flavor from the other. I'm not a historian so I can't comment on the veracity of the facts, but from a reader's point of view, the book seems extensively researched. As I read Dina's tale, I was transported to a time and place where horrible injustices where committed. Like Henner and Etoile, I too was entranced with Dina, a woman who tried to remain brave and strong against all adversity. The author draws interesting parallels between Dina and the old biblical character with the same name. She also explores various themes, such as the hypocrisy of religion, the capacity of one human being to hurt another, the harmful consequences of ignorance and superstition, and the power of one individual to overwhelm and control another. This is a slow read, for the simple reason that there's a lot to be absorbed. The paragraphs are often long and written in heavy-handed language. If what you're looking for is a fast-paced page-turner, this isn't the book for you. However, it is the perfect novel for those who enjoy history, meaning and depth in their stories. The premise is intriguing and original and I felt I had taken a little history course at the end, which is always a plus.
Brigitte Goldstein has produced a novel built on very well-researched Jewish history from the 1300s to present day. Though a work of fiction, it has the feel of reality. Of course much of the story includes real events, especially the religious observances as well as the many relocations and deportations of the Jews through the centuries. With the many attempts to expunge all trace of the Jewish faith it is amazing how that faith has kept them going through all the trials and tribulations. It all begins with a centuries-old codex allegedly written by a woman named Miryam who is considered dead to her family after she is defiled by a Cathar priest and leaves her behind at the age of 16 in their exodus. At this time she renames herself Dina. The codex is a letter, or perhaps series of letters written to her sons, raised secretly with what Jewish teachings she is able to provide them although their father is the priest. She is explaining why she did what she did and how it was to protect them. This book covers a lot of ground and also a few genres. We have historical fact and fiction, romance, fantasy, and war all wrapped up together in a fascinating package. Though many words were unfamiliar to me, I found that the meaning often could be absorbed as the text went on. I did check dictionaries at times, though. I find the medieval text works, but the modern day portions are a bit heavy on the academic side. This said, I still enjoyed the book with its believable historical fiction, so well-written that it makes it hard to believe it is fiction. The book centers around three distinctive times in Jewish history: the banishment of Jews by King Phillipe of France in the early 1300s, a time of the Inquisitions and heretics; the ousting of Jews from Spain during the Spanish Civil war followed by the Nazi evacuation of Jews from Germany. It was at this time in the late 1930s and early 1940s that the second major story begins, but also ties in with our present day translators as they flee to escape from the Nazi agenda of World War II. During their escape through the Pyrenees mountains our current party must stop for the impending birth, and the mother-to-be is taken to a secret village for the birth. It is referred to as Valladine, and the baby grows up to become a well-respected historian but always feels the pull of the place she calls Valladine. At this point we leave the past and go into the late 20th century where this whole translated story will be presented to the academic world. Altogether an informative yet entertaining book, a rare blend. I enjoyed it as both.
Five years ago Nina Aschauer disappeared. She was searching for Valladine, a city no one had ever heard of it. She had been born in Valladine when her parents escaped the Nazis. Her search lead her to love, a village where time seemed to have stood still, and a codex. Professor Henry "Henner" Marcus had always been protective of his cousin Nina. When he received a message from her asking for his help and a large sum of money, he left Chicago and headed to the South of France. He was quickly caught up in the mysterious codex. It told the story of Dina, a Jewess woman abandoned by her family after being sexually assaulted by a priest. The fourteenth century Jewess woman left a memoir for her sons. She told of the inquisition and the pain of feeling separated from her family and her people. Brigitte Goldstein takes three threads and weaves a fascinating tapestry. The ancient story of Dina is interwoven with the story of Henner and Nina. The descriptions were vivid. It was easy to see the jail cell, and the village seemed to come alive in my mind. While I enjoyed Nina's story and Henner's family history, it was Dina's story that made me keep turning pages. It was fascinating! Both Nina and Dina are very strong female characters. Goldstein is a talented author, and I will be watching for more of her work.
Editor Review (reviewed on December 2, 2010) Two historians journey to France to find a mysterious village with ties to historic Jewish persecution in Goldstein's ( Princess of the Blood , 2007, etc.) new novel. When Professor Henry "Henner" Marcus receives a letter from his cousin Nina who disappeared five years ago, he has acute misgivings about traveling from Chicago to Toulouse with a large sum of money, as per Nina's instructions. But Henner's strong sense of family and academic curiosity drive him to commit to the adventure. When Nina finally shows herself, Henner is drawn further into the mystery through a codex allegedly written by Dina, a Jewish woman who founded a community high in the Pyrenees Mountains that has retained its isolation over the centuries; it is Valladine-the place where Nina was born during her parents' escape from the Nazis and where she returns as an adult when she abandons her academic career. Henner and Nina's friend Etoile set to the task of translating the codex while Nina returns to her adopted medieval village, where she may face punishment for removing the document. Parallels and reflections abound among the several interwoven plot lines: Dina's story, Nina's story, Henner's family history and contemporary events. Goldstein-historian, literary translator and editor-shows a talent for making historical events feel relevant and alive. Dina's story is captivating; Goldstein describes the various settings-a mountain village, a forlorn jail cell-with prose that is both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually satisfying. She wavers, however, on her more contemporary subjects. She uses the same language when following Henner, Etoile and Nina on their travels through 1970s France and America as she does when describing the 1300s. Even their conversations sport a pedantic tone with a liberal peppering of highbrow vocabulary; the result is a constant, solemn cadence that grows heavy-handed over 400 pages. Readers who appreciate historical fiction will find much to like, and if Goldstein could apply the same level of ability to her modern-day characters as she does to her historical figures, the book may find a broader audience.