Jeanette's Reviews > By Fire, by Water

By Fire, by Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
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's review
Jan 30, 12

bookshelves: to-read

A deep, well-written, historically rich and thought provoking novel. The Spanish Inquisition (or New Inquisition) was a stain in both human and Christian history and I appreciate novels like this that endeavor to educate and bring to light the stories of the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The main character, Luis de Santangel, advisory chancellor to King Ferdinand, is the protagonist and not entirely honorable. As a "converso" (convert to Christianity from Judaism)he is able to quell his innate desires about discovering his past and his forgotten heritage but doesn't suffer for it like those he enlisted to aid him in some capacity. His brother Estefan, for example, is a true stalwart, sadly being tortured and burned at the stake for simply looking out for his nephew (Santangel's son) and refusing to acknowledge the divine authority the inquisitors beat into every person in his city. "I shall not repent to a fellow mortal, Father. What is between me and God I need not share with you." Luis de Santangel got his "punishment" through life's ironies and the invisible hand of destiny but it happened in spite of everything he did to prevent it. He extinguished all his resources to save himself and only himself. Thankfully, the writer introduces you to people like Estefan and a devote, unapologetic Jewish woman named Judith to renew your belief that people are good, faithful, kind, and unwilling to sell out. They are examples to me. My favorite quote from the book is when Judith asks Santangel if he is Christian or Jewish. Santangel answers: "My lady, what is the advantage of knowing, with absolute certainty, what one believes? There's much to be said for doubt." Judith replies: "All people suffer. But if you don't know what you believe, you suffer alone." What an amazing statement of faith, religious conviction, and ultimately empathy.

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