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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review - By Fire, By Water Mitchell James Kaplan

This was a book sent to me by the author. This was the second time this has happened and I was delighted as I do not get books sent to me by publishing houses or by authors. The cost of postage from the United States to Sri Lanka is exhorbitant and I don't blame anyone for not thinking of overseas reviewers when they send out their books.

Luis de Santangel is a converso - he has come to the very pinnacle of his career as Chancellor to the Spanish King. He has everything within his grasp and knows it. Until the arrival of the dread Inquisition and Luis's personal achilles heel is going to be revealed. Torquemada has made it his life's mission to bring Santangel down and this he endeavors to do - turning his only son against him, imprisoning and torturing his brother and in the process Luis begins to lose the power and the glory that surrounded him.

As time goes on Luis longs for his Jewish roots and this was for me a fascinating part of the story. The Jews lived alongside the Moors in Granada and in Castile and in Aragon in peace. They were not tortured or forced to give up their faith. The inquisition changed all that. They became a hunted people chased from their homes, forced to leave with nothing of value and set up home again wherever they could find safe abode. The tyranny in the name of the Christian religion was an eye opener for me. I had known of the Inquisition but not to the extent it went to change people and circumstances to suit their own twisted way of thinking. In the name of religion how much evil presided at the time is very evident from this book.

Alongside Luis - the other character of note is Judith. A strong Jewish woman who takes to a professional career of being a silversmith - which was for the time marked her as being different. The attraction between Luis and Judith which develops very slowly culminating in her bearing his son is very poignant. He never sees Judith who was pregnant with his child ever again once she is forced to flee her home.

Another interesting feature of the book was the character of Christopher Colombus. His ambition of finding the Indias, of circumnavigating the globe, his search for funding all mark him as an ambitious, fearless adventurer. Bringing Colombus into this story also marked the era in which the story is set.

As a story the book was so good that I finished it almost in one go. For lovers of historical fiction and specially for those whose knowledge of the Spanish era of the time and more particularly the role of the Inquisition, this would be a must read.


  1. Wasn't it just magical :) And did you get as angry as I did at some of those idiots in the book. It was sure an eye opener for me too

  2. Great review! This book sounds great. Another one for my wish list!

  3. Great review. I am not really into historical fiction, but this does sound interesting!

  4. I've heard this is fabulous and after your review, I'm anxious to read it!

  5. I can't wait to read this book. I hope to start it soon!