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

3.23  ·  Rating Details ·  203 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
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 conver
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 16th 2012 by Riverhead (first published August 1st 2012)
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Nov 01, 2015 Brina rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-books, memoirs
Based on reviews I read here I was hoping that this book would be greater than it was. Doreen Carvajal is a possible descendant of conversos who goes to Spain in hopes of tracking down clues to her family history. Instead of definitive answers and chronological genealogy we get chapters that read like human interest newspaper articles. The articles I admit were interesting and probably would have read better in the paper or in a blog. In book form there is just that one thing missing.
In the end
Jun 26, 2012 Jaylia3 rated it really liked it
Doreen Carvajal was raised Catholic, but like Madeleine Albright she began to suspect that her family used to be Jewish. In Albright’s case this wasn’t ancient history, her family’s religious shift happened during WWII, but Carvajal had reason to believe her ancestors may have been forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. Even more surprising to Carvajal, it wasn’t until she was well into adulthood that she realized that while outwardly Catholic some older members of her family were qui ...more
Jun 26, 2012 Meredith rated it it was ok
This is a book that I really wanted to love. The first few chapters drew me in very quickly and I was intrigued by the subject.

Doreen Carvajal, is a journalist and it shows with this book, which reads as individual columns in a series. My problem with this is that single threads of the book are separated from each other by other threads. The chapters are mostly quite short and it's disrupting to become interested in something only for it to end abruptly and the subject to pick back up in three c
May 09, 2012 Kim rated it it was amazing
Amazing! It was one of those books that you hate to end.

"The Forgetting River" has something for everyone. I originally picked up this book because of the genealogical aspect, but found that it is so much more! The descriptions of Arcos de la Frontera are wonderful and when I went to the Internet and looked at the images of this medieval city it was just as Caravajel had written. This book is a beautifully written memoir and encompasses all aspects of the author's incredible search for her famil
Jun 07, 2012 Edi rated it it was amazing
A writer's journey of discovery places genealogical research and history lessons in a very personal context. This may be more than you ever wanted to know about the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of Jews, then gypsies, then Muslims. Even an occasional wealthy noble, whose property seizure by Inquisition officials and anyone with a grudge to point at them, could be put to torture and execution, all to "purify the faith." This true story was viscerally disturbing, yet the music playing in my m ...more
Aug 07, 2013 Ruthie rated it it was ok
I came to this book fully expecting to love it. I am Jewish and I grew up in Spain, so I have always been very interested in conversos or crypto-Jews. I'm afraid I was very disappointed. There were a few interesting facts and I loved reading about Arcos, a town close to where my mother lives, but the writing and organization are horrendous. It reads like a first draft that has yet to encounter an editor. An appalling lack of structure, terrible grammar and a lot of repetition. Do yourself a favo ...more
Oct 12, 2012 Lisa rated it it was ok
I was mildly disappointed in this book. Having read the great reviews, I was expecting much more. The premise is that the author suspects she may be the descendent of converso Jews and I was expecting a much deeper exploration of who the converso Jews were and their place in history. There are long descriptions of the residents of the Spanish village where the author has a summer home and not that much on her quest for her converso Jew roots.
Sep 04, 2012 Hillá rated it it was ok
This book needed an editor. The topic is fascinating, but sadly, I found it extermely poorly written. It doesn't come together, it feels just like fragments and musings, and it's exteremly hard to read, or at least put together. I found it more indulgent than interesting.
Nov 02, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spanish-theme, kindle
This was a fascinating book about a woman who grew up in California now trying to trace her lineage back through Costa Rica and from there back to the days of the Inquisition in Spain. She started following the trail of occasional stories, symbols, and other handed-down clues to unearth the secret most of her family didn't want to confront directly: whether or not they were descended from Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition or face torture or death for thei ...more
Mike  Davis
Jun 11, 2012 Mike Davis rated it really liked it
The "river" of the title is the passage of time which has swept away links between Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition and their modern day survivors, many of whom are not aware of their former Jewish roots. The author takes us on a personal genealogy trip to determine her own background and in the process turns up the horrors of the persecution of Jews by the Catholic church and subsequent loss of identity and even records that were destroyed or al ...more
May 22, 2013 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-memoir
This book is the underside of history. Religious persecution in Europe from the Crusades through the Holocaust. This talks about the amazing perseverance of the Jewish people and culture. Helps to remember why we don't want religions to rule countries. Someone once said that the fact that Christianity had survived so long gave it validity. I would argue that the validity of longevity is compromised when a religious culture survives through active persecution and coercion of others, and through k ...more
May 31, 2012 Courtney rated it really liked it
I received this book as part of the First Reads program. It explores the author's journey to find out more about her family history spurred on by many clues along the way that suggest her Catholic family actually has roots in Judaism. I think I found it particularly intriguing because I, too, have ancestors that left Spain around the time of the Inquisition with little hints here and there that they may have been Jews. More than anything, The Forgetting River sparked my interest in that personal ...more
The writing style was a little melodramatic for me, but this story of a woman attempting to discover proof of her family's pre-Inquisition Jewish ancestry is actually rather suspenseful. She introduces us to the town of Arcos de la Frontera in Spain's Andalusia region, and to its unique residents, secrets, and history. To attempt to discover 500-year-old family history seems like an insurmountable obstacle to me, but I was cheering for her all the way.
Sirin Artan
Feb 13, 2014 Sirin Artan rated it it was ok
I was very excited when a friend mentioned this book about "hidden Jews". However, I couldn't enjoy the book because it needs a lot of editing. In addition, there was hardly any mention of how the author found out about her roots. On the other hand, too much about the town of Arcos in Spain, where her family was originally from (present day Arcos) and too much scattered information that did not seem to be relevant.
Apr 07, 2014 Elise rated it liked it
An interesting premise and many interesting and beautiful descriptions, as well as tidbits about Spain and Spanish history. Disturbing stuff too. But I was never quite sure what the author was reaching for and I found the ending unsatisfying. Maybe she did too, who knows. She was waiting for that moment when she would feel/realize she was Jewish, and it didn't happen. Which made for a much less dramatic book, even though it was honest.
Sep 25, 2013 Merle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Journalist Doreen Carvajal has covered European news for The New York
Times and the International Herald Tribune for over 25 years. During her travels, people have commented to her about
her family name and questioned its origins. She was raised as a Catholic in California, with distant relatives living in
Costa Rica. Now she calls Paris, France,
home for herself, her husband, and her
young daughter.
Recently, she began to suspect her
family might have Jewish roots. As she
starts to look into he
Jun 12, 2015 Grace rated it it was ok
American journalist, from a South American family, searching for possible Spanish Jewish roots. If the book had been fiction, there would have been a big reveal at the end. But because it's nonfiction, the story sort of peters out because there isn't any conclusive evidence that the author's family is descended from the hidden Jews of Spain. She has lots of anecdotal evidence, but doesn't really pick up anything new from her searches in Spain. Yet the book, especially because she is a journalist ...more
I am a good target audience for a book of this genre - having 1) strong interest in the search for one's family history, 2) an understanding of the events that molded the larger family dynamic, 3) and a general desire to "make sense" of those perhaps-unknowable influences that comprise our family of origin's psycho-social inheritance.
Add to that a Caribbean island born spouse with a centuries old origin in Spain - it's a tailor-made match.
I found it interesting reading. I'm not at all sorry I sp
Carol Cei
Jul 05, 2015 Carol Cei rated it it was ok
I was so excited about reading this book as I, too, am the descendant of "conversos" or crypto-Jews. While there was a lot of interesting information in this book, it seemed to be disjointed and repetitive. It seemed to me that while the author was searching for her family history, she was secretly hoping to NOT be Jewish. While she was confronted by many clues, she seemed not willing to accept the facts. Rather, she appeared to be quite taken with all of the Catholic rituals in the book. I,too, ...more
Barbara L.
I'm only halfway through this book, but I have to say that, although the topic is fascinating, the writing is often so confusing that I have to read back to try to figure out what the author is talking about. Where was the editor???

Finished the book - here are my comments: I chose to purchase this book because it's about searching for the author's Marrano roots. I wish it had given me more content about the Marranos and the author's family - felt like she didn't have enough material to do justic
belva hullp
Mar 06, 2013 belva hullp rated it did not like it
I had such high hopes for this book when I began reading it and was so excited to read it. It is the true story of a journalist who is searching for Jewish roots that she believes lie hidden somewhere in her past and those of her forebearers.
It takes place mainly in Spain and while parts of the book were very interesting most of it seemed to be to be sprawling and meandering all over the place, taking way too long to tell most of the events. I think that this book could have been very good had t
Sep 16, 2012 Chelsea rated it it was amazing
This book is really an incredible true story. Reminds me of doing genealogy for myself and what mysteries and surprises may be there to be discovered. I want to write so much but can't because I don't want to give away the story.

Being Hispanic with some of my ancestors coming from the Canary Islands, this story has opened up to me possible avenues to take in my research for my own family.

It is a very touching and intense story as well because of some of the issues discussed which have to do wit
Dec 31, 2012 Laurie rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish-interest
This is an amazing book, it took a bit to get past the overwhelming anthropomorphism, though. I don't think bells and buildings talk to me, apparently no poetic soul or some such. Of all I thought about the Spanish Inquisition, I didn't know anything. This tells the tale of the cruelty and secrecy in the context of history. I learned about the various exodus routes, of Mexico and Costa Rica and the Balkans. It tells of the hidden clues in the art and music and food.
To me, while not structured as
Sep 21, 2012 Jaksen rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book and set out with a very positive attitude, however, once the author said that fathers do not contribute to the genetic makeup of their children ...

I wish I had the page number for this. But I read it over and over, and went back to re-read the paragraph to see if, in context, it made sense. For example, was this in reference to mitochondrial DNA? I couldn't find it so I gave up, stopped reading and that's that. Such a blatant error turned me off this book altogether.
May 31, 2012 Katrina rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads-win
First Reads win: I found this book to be interesting and make me interested in my own family. I have always wondered about my family history and this book makes me feel that I could have just as interesting one as the author. I loved how I got to learn and understand the trails of different things that occurred in this book. I can say it was a well thought book but not my favorite. I will keep an eye out for similar books as this.
Mar 17, 2013 Bill rated it did not like it
This is a one because there is no zero on the scale.
The "organization scheme" she chooses makes one think she missed that class in J school. She skips around so much geographically and chronologically that it makes your head spin in confusion. Maybe she is also confused as to what she is writing that maybe the reader will tell her.
Judith Klinghoffer
May 18, 2013 Judith Klinghoffer rated it it was amazing
It is a fascinating book about an author who spends her time wondering whether she is Jewish though she knows or seems to care to know very little about Judaism. If that does not suffice, she sends her daughter to a Catholic school. It would all be funny if the stories she tells were not so gut wrenching.
This would make a superb Book club selection.
Jun 30, 2012 Pat rated it it was amazing
Doreen has always been able to write in such a way that visions are created with her words. The description of the small Spanish frontier pueblo and the customs passed from generation to generation was very informative and interesting. Loved the gathering of bits of history to make a whole. Great Book for all searching for the mysteries from your past.
Sep 03, 2013 Barbara rated it really liked it
Rounding up 3.5 stars to 4. I believe this maybe the first book I've read that discusses the Spanish Inquisition, edict to expel Jews in 1492 and inquisition tribunals both in Spain and Mexico. And, that these edicts were not revoked for hundreds of years.
The book does meander a bit, but there is so much interesting information in this book, I'm glad I read it.
May 21, 2014 Rey rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Some good information, but definitely a memoir. The histrionics taper off after the first few chapters. But I read memoirs more for the information about the subject, and less to know the author. In this work, one definitely learns a lot about the author.
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Doreen Carvajal is a Paris-based journalist for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

Her first book, "The Forgetting River," is about her search to recover her Catholic family's hidden Sephardic Jewish roots in a mystical white pueblo on Spain's southern frontier in Andalusia. It was a journey that began ultimately after her canceled goodbye party on September 11 in New York.

More about Doreen Carvajal...

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