07 November 2010

By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan


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?

Sadly, I found that I didn't.  But 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.

The History I Should Know More About
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.

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Luis de Santángel
Luis de Santángel is the Chancellor of Zaragoza to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, and is a central figure in several historical events of this time -- not only from the Spanish Inquisition and his own losses, but also of his close friendship with the sailor, Christopher Columbus.  Santángel is a man of reputation, wealth, and compassion. He is also one of the many conversos, a Spanish term at the time for an individual in Spain or Portugal who is either a direct descendant of, or is, a baptized Jew now converted, and is in danger of being thought of as still holding beliefs in Judaism. Because of his family's history, his innocent interest with a small group of close friends to discuss and question faith and religion, places him and all those that he loves in such jeopardy of the Inquisition that has recently been established in his town.

Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada is in control of rooting out all heretics, and employing through the secular world the many implements of torture that we have heard about from that time:  the rack, the whippings, and other "methods." When a close friend to Santángel's group is selected and tortured for months to receive "confessions," and subsequently dies, Santángel does what he feels he must do to protect his only family left from any accusations.


In the Kingdom of Granada, located then at the southern part of Spain, Judith Migdal, is a young Jewish woman who has taken on her brother's trade as a silversmith after his death.  Realizing that she must continue this trade will also require her to read and write, and she does so in order to communicate with potential clients far from her home.  Her path is arduous and fascinating to watch as she exhibits a strength and intelligence that will help her and her family to survive, day by day.  She's also caught Santángel's eye on one of his recent trips to Granada on behalf of the King and the Queen, and his continued reflection of his grandfather's faith and his new faith deepen even more.
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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.
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Visit the author's site by clicking here.
To learn more about the Inquisition, click here.

FTC Disclosure:  I received the book from the author through Other Press/Random House.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick

28 comments:

  1. Oh, this sounds very interesting. A god historical fiction novel always sends me on a researching quest after. I want to see how much is true. I will add this one to my wishlist.

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  2. Well, I did not know about this event in history either. Thanks foe giving enough info on it. i know I really like Santángel already, I am sure I want to read this book. Great review.

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  3. Oh, I love it when a book gets me fired up about something like that. By Fire, By Water must be really good!

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  4. Oh my! I loved this post and all the extras that you posted along with it! I just finished this book and thought that Kaplan did an amazing job with both his characters and the plot. I especially liked Judith and would have loved to learn more about her life. Also, the girl that the king took from the village? So sad. I am so glad to hear that this book got you all excited and think that your review was wonderful! Thanks for sharing it!

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  5. I have heard of this books and I always love a good historical novel. I also have to admit that I didn't know much about the Inquisition besides the basics. Thanks for the detailed info!

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  6. I've seen this one around but wasn't really aware that it was about the Inquisition. What a horrible period in history. Not surprisingly, in a time when religious forces had become so zealous, art became stagnant.

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  7. It's a fantastic book and I'm so glad you loved it. One of my top favourites for 2010......and another that gets the googling fingers going. :-)
    Great post!

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  8. OOH I am reading this one this week! Thanks for the thoughts on it - cant wait! :)

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  9. oh what a fantastic review!!! i've read several historical novels about the Inquisition and it is heartbreaking! I think I might even have this book on my shelves somewhere...or in a box from my recent move....I've got to read this book! I love historical fiction like this!

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  10. What a fabulous review, Natalie. The history and the pictures were great to include too.

    My Mum snapped up my copy of this book a few months ago and reviewed it for my blog - she loved it. It is still on my list of books I must get to really soon.

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  11. Fantastic review, this one is on my wishlist. I love it when a historical fiction novel inspires you to learn more about a particular historical period.

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  12. When I find a good historical novel I do love to do a bit of research on the subject matter.

    enjoy ur reading

    carol

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  13. I hadn't heard of this book and it sounds just incredible. I'm adding to my list today. It's really fantastic when a novel gets you excited about a subject. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  14. For as much as I love history, you'd think I would know much about the Spanish Inquisition, too -- but I don't! Sounds like a fascinating read, and I appreciate the maps and additional photos you included in your review -- very interesting!

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  15. You review ids terrific and I really appreciate the info you provided about the inquisition. I know little about that event and the facts and time surrounding it.

    I'm putting this book on my list to read and will be checking into it the next time I'm out book shopping!

    Thank you!
    ~ Amy

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  16. I've always found this fascinating (brutally so...and heartbreaking of course), but I surely don't know as much as I should. Of course I can say that about me and relational history in general. I love how you give all sorts of friendly background info in your reviews :)

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  17. I have this one, and I've read part of it, but I definitely need to jump back in and finish. I am also ridiculously underinformed about this time period. My first experience with it was actually with one of Alice Hoffman's YA novels. Good stuff!

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  18. Have to get this one next.

    The reviews are accolades heaped upon the author and now I want to read why.

    Great review, seriously well done girl. Reviews of this caliber inspire me. Keep writing those thoughts out for us.

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  19. Wasn't this book absolutely the best? I so loved it. AND I was so broken-hearted at the end .. sometimes quiet tragedies are more sorrowful. This was one of my 5 out of 5 stars books this year and likely will have my "Top Historical Fiction" honors too! And ... I KNOW ... don't you wish we KNEW more about periods like these? I don't think I even KNEW there was a SPANISH inquisition .. AND I didn't know that there was a time when Muslims actually PROTECTED Jewish people. Anyway, great, educational, well-thought-out review! Kudos to you!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

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  20. Books like this always make me wish I’d paid more attention in school. It sounds fascinating and well-written. I’lll be adding it to my want-to-read list.

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  21. Great review! I have this book and really want to read it. Isn't it great when a historical novel not only entertains but also helps us learn new stuff. I love that.

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  22. I'm glad you enjoyed this so much. It's a really neat book. :-)

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  23. That sounds like a great book. I'm always so fascinated by that time period and the lunacy that went on when with the killings. Did this include the persecution of the Knights Templar or was that France? That's another time that fascinates me. That was a great review!

    Don't worry about the swag, my 200th follower celebration is coming up as soon as I get those last four! Then I'll be sharing the love!

    Heather
    Buried in Books

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  24. This sounds really interesting. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a historical with drama and this sounds like just the thing. I'm adding it to my TBR list. You know, I almost hate to say this, but I will anyway: Whenever I think of The Inquisition, I think of Mel Brook's generally awful film History of the World, Part 1.
    They show Torquemada and a bunch of monks in black singing and dancing about the inquisition. I mean, it's HIDEOUSLY funny. Terrible of me, I know.

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  25. I've had this one on my TBR list for awhile now...it sounds really interesting and I love a good historical read. Great review!!

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  26. Oooh! I got a galley of this at BEA (my booth was next to Other Press), and now I'm definitely going to have to move it up on my list. First I'll have to find it. Thanks for the review!

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  27. I'll be reading this one soon, and I'm looking forward to it because I've read so many good reviews like yours.

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  28. I've read a little about the Inquisition over the years and it almost makes me hunger to learn more as often historical novels make me feel. I haven't heard of this one, but I'm definitely curious and will have to add it to my wish list. Thank you for your great review--and bringing this one to my attention!

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