Siobian's Reviews > By Fire, by Water

By Fire, by Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
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's review
Feb 20, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction, read-in-2011
Read in February, 2011

Set in 1492, By Fire, By Water transports readers to the time of the Spanish Inquisition. It follows Luis de Santángel, chancellor to King Ferdinand and third generation converso, (a person of Jewish descent who converted to Christianity) as he struggles with his faith and doubts. However, it was not the ideal time to ask questions of faith because any Christian known to show an interest in Judaism or even reveal that they may have doubts about their beliefs were tortured and, if they did not confess and repent, were killed. When the secret meetings that Santángel has been having with a Jewish scholar are discovered, those who could be incriminated set out to destroy all evidence to keep from being arrested by the Church. In spite of this, Santángel's wealth, influence, family, and his own life are put in peril.

I have to admit that before reading this novel, I knew little of the Spanish Inquisition beyond the scope of what I was taught in school and read in my text books. I knew it was a terrible time and lots of people were killed but I had not really put much thought into it. By Fire, By Water helped to bring that period of history to life and made me understand just how tragic the Inquisition really was. This was a dark and moving novel filled with memorable characters, including Cristobal Colon, whom every American child knows as Christopher Columbus. Columbus became a flesh and bone person for me while I was reading; something my school books never quite accomplished. I came to see his personality, his passions, and his motives for making his famous voyage; he made it not just for fame and fortune, but as a way to reach Jerusalem and change the world. My favorite was the character of Judith Midgal, a Jewish woman who, after her brother dies, takes over his craft of silvermaking so that she can support herself, her nephew, and father. Her story was fascinating and I wished I could have seen more of her life and point of view. It took me a couple of chapters to become deeply interested in the novel, but once I did, I really lost myself in the descriptions and dramas that unfolded and found myself thinking about the book during times when I wasn't reading it. Images from the book found a place inside of my head and refused to come out. It was a beautifully lyrical book and I am looking forward to seeing what Mitchell James Kaplan will do next.

* I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. I really did enjoy it that much, regardless of where I got the book from.

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