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The Convert

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  3,281 ratings  ·  402 reviews
In this dazzling work of historical fiction, the Booker International-longlisted author of War and Turpentine reconstructs the tragic story of a Medieval Christian noblewoman who abandoned her life for the love of a Jewish boy.

The Middle Ages have just begun when Vigdis Adela�s, a young woman from a prosperous French family, falls in love with David Todro
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Pantheon Books (first published October 3rd 2016)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  3,281 ratings  ·  402 reviews

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Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
My rating says it all: this was a great read. But, to be honest, I'm not such a great fan of historical novels: most authors try to force the historical data into a straitjacket and fill the voids with fictional guesswork, to the extent that the whole does not convince at all. This book by the Flemish author Stefan Hertmans (° 1951) is a different story (perhaps you even can't call it a real historical novel): apparently, Hertmans only had one historical document available, a Hebrew text from th ...more
This is a historical novel not in the sense that it follows the lives of famous people, like Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, but simply in its medieval setting. There are a few historical persons—Raymond of Poitiers, Pope Urban II etc—but they appear only briefly in cameos. One wonders, though, since in an opening note Hertmans boasts about his deep research, to what extent Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium was a consulted source? Certainly the story of Pope Urban II’s declarati ...more
Ari Levine
As a historian of the medieval world who escapes into contemporary novels after work, I was really looking forward to this, but this is an unwieldy hybrid narrative that doesn't quite work as either historical fiction or metafiction. Hertmans doesn't succeed in capturing the intellectual and psychological life-world of his medieval protagonist, and he stretches a thin layer of research over a highly empathetic portrait of a Christian convert to Judaism, whose inner life strikes me as anachronist ...more
I am fascinated by the choices cover designers have made for this most interesting book. The French translation of Stefan Hartmans' new book The Convert (published by Gallimard) is titled Le Coeur Converti (The Converted Heart) and the image alludes to passion. I harvested it from the the author's website, so I don't know the credits, but it's obviously a photo, and it features a girl in an historic building of some prestige. This interior is not medieval or Gothic, (which have dark interiors), ...more
Karen Raskin
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For me, this book was amazing! First, I was entranced by the story, told in a dual timeline, which was based on a real manuscript dating from 11th century France that refers to a well-born Christian woman who married a Jewish man during the time of the First Crusade. Second, I was mesmerized by the writing, which was delicate, evocative and poetic. Exactly my kind of book.
Harold Zeckel
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book about a girl living in the early part of the 11th century. Much of the story depicts the hellishness of the middle ages. It did give me unpleasant dreams one night. However this book enabled me to vicariously live in Europe and Egypt during those times. The one thing which detracted from my enjoyment was that the author often gave flashforwards to the present time. I think someone else commented on this. I had to learn to skim through these passages as I always wanted to get ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Often I wonder if people have read the same book I read. One of the blurbs on the back cover was that the book has a “quiet lyricism.” While this may be true in parts of the story, mostly it is loud with incredibly grueling journeys, assault, rape, death. Sometimes I can follow the trail of a dark dark story and realize that this is a journey that I as a reader should make but,somehow, I began to feel that the cruelty of this book was almost prurient.
Guido Eekhaut
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book and a writer of international scope. Hertmans, in my view, gets better all the time. This book is a historical romance, a love-affair (between writers and subject), a memoir. Read it almost in one sitting, and might consider rereading this.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was beautifully written and based on a true story, that was incredibly researched. It made me think of the age old question of what we do for love. This is especially true for the young lovers in the 11th century when one converts to Judaism and are on the run. It was a tough world back then! Enjoyed the read.
Cassie (book__gal)
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
(3.75) Translated from Dutch, combining a unique blend of fiction based on real events over a thousand years ago, and the current day travels of the author, who retraces the journey of the ill-fated lovers of whom he writes. Hertmans employs stunning language to describe France whether it is present day or 1092. The landscapes unfold vividly before you. ⁣

The story follows a young couple: one a Christian woman with a powerful Norman father in the north, and the other a Jewish man, the son of a p
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, history
Very enjoyable hybrid of historical fiction and detective work and beautifully written/translated (from Dutch). The book reimagines, based on fragmentary historical records, the life and flight to Jerusalem of an 11th C. Norman woman who falls in love with a yeshiva student and converts to Judaism. The author has a home in Monieux, the small French village that is central to the story. It is clear that Hertmans is devoted to the village and region and that his devotion animates his search for th ...more
Apr 21, 2020 added it
Wow, I LOVED this book. I've often said that I like my historical fiction 70% history and 30% fiction (I essentially want to read a fun textbook, and I will not rest until I get Hollywood to make a romantic period piece where the main characters are missing teeth).

Boy, did this book give me that ratio in spades and with the added bonus of Hertmans' wonderfully poetic musings (he is, after all, a poet). I especially enjoyed his ruminations on the essential unknowability of certain historical poc
Clare O'Dea
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Rarely has a book given me such strong feelings and such rich knowledge. The mix between fiction and non-fiction is perfectly delivered and brings the 11th century characters and setting to life in a unique way. The story is mind-blowing, fascinating and heartbreaking. Inspires lots of reflections about the ugly side of European Christianity, how insane it has made people over the centuries, the terrible wrongs that have been committed. Hamoutal is an unforgettably tragic heroine. Stefan Hertman ...more
Apr 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Why choose between writing a work of historical fiction and a work of historical scholarship when you can do both?

The answer, as demonstrated by "The Convert," is "one will distract from the other."

In "The Convert," Mr. Hertmans tells the story of a fascinating historical anomaly: in 1091, Vigdis Gulbrander, the Rouen-born daughter of a minor Norman nobleman, abandoned her Christian faith, changes her name to Sarah Hamoutal, and converts to Judaism so she can marry David Todros, the son of a pro
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
The story of 17-year-old Vigdis Adelaïs, a young woman with Christian, Viking and Norman roots, who falls in love with David Todros, a yeshiva student, in Rouen France in 1070 was incredibly interesting. Her conversion to Judaism and struggles to become accepted in the Jewish community all the while dodging knights sent by her family to bring her back home, was fascinating. And, her harrowing journey (with a newborn in tow) to try to find her captured older two children after the First Crusade b ...more
Jennifer Paton Smith
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish, book-club
Very interesting historical fiction, based on a few documents found in the Cairo Genizah, about the life of a young Christian woman in France in the late 1000's who converts to Judaism to marry a young rabbinical student. They must run away from her family. They have a few happy years together before the Crusades catch up with them, and it's all downhill from there.

As nasty as 2020 is so far, living 900 years ago was so much worse.

The only part of the book I didn't like so much was the level of
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5. Absolutely unbelievable story and based upon historical fact dating back to the first Crusade. Such extraordinary archeological findings led to the author’s incredible reconstruction of the tragic love story. Exhausted by virtue of reading of their journey.
The first part of this book lacked rhythm and stimulus to continue reading... but once the journey of the young lovers starts, it's difficult to put the book aside. The many historical details make the protagonists and their story come alive. ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 beautiful.
Liz Holland
Sep 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a quiet book which I was not sure about part way through; nevertheless I kept picking it up and found it to be an enjoyable and memorable read. Imagining life back in medieval times was made quite easy by the author who juxtaposed those imaginings with the present in a very effective albeit unusual and slightly awkward way. That ended up being part of the book's charm. ...more
Tim Robberechts
Good story, great research. But his own journey wasn't that interesting for me... ...more
Rhonda Silver
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Moving and disturbing. Based on fragments of a true story found in the famous Cairo Genizah. I learned a lot about how Jews lived and were treated during the period of the Crusades in Northern France. Quick read and definitely worth it.
Kathleen Freeman
Overall this was a really interesting and engaging story, truly your heart went out to Adelois. This story also reminded me how brutal life was during this time in history. As well I also really enjoyed the role of the narrator, I think that made the book unique and different for me.
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, history
This book really defies categorization.. it’s fictionalized non-fiction? It was a piece of Jewish history seen through the eyes of one convert in 11th century France, at the start of the Crusades. There are references to her story in ancient Jewish documents, and the author traces her journey from France to Italy to Egypt and all the way back. When he doesn’t have historical back up, he fills in the gap with his imagination. The story weaves between the imagined story, historical references and ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After finishing this book, I have been unable to find another that comes even close to enthralling me like this one did. I keep trying new books and not finishing them because my expectations of how engaging, provocative, and compelling a read should be now are so high. I love historical books, and I had just finished Dan Jones' Crusaders which turned out to be a great companion to this novel, the specific history of one woman during the crusading times and how her life was impacted by religious ...more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Emotionally a very difficult read. Following a Jewish convert through her journey doubly exposed to persecution both within and outside of herself. The atrocities committed at the time were beyond imagination. Insight of her world at that time is very descriptive and places the reader in her shoes.
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
I only gave this book 2 stars because I think there should be more books written about converts and that center a convert's experience, especially in the historical genre because we've always been here. As a convert to Judaism, woman, and sexual assault survivor, I think I can bring an important perspective to how this book resonates and when it's completely infuriating. The liberties the author took really show that he can't imagine that a woman who was brave enough to be hunted by her family a ...more
Ann Olszewski
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and moving mix of history, travelogue, and imagination, this book defies easy compartmentalization. It's not a novel, but it's not exactly non-fiction, either. Hertmans' work has been compared that of the late W.G. Sebald, which was definitely a recommendation for me, and one with which I ultimately concur.

This story of star-crossed and horribly doomed love between a Jewish rabbi and a wealthy European woman spans Europe and the Middle East, and moves between the years of the Firs
Joanne Jacobson
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A completely fascinating historical novel that brings together daily life in the middle ages, medieval antisemitism, and Jewish communities in France and Cairo.
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GFOP Readers: The Convert by Stefan Hertmans 1 41 Apr 07, 2020 04:42PM  

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Stefan Hertmans is a Flemish Belgian author, poet and essayist. He is the author of a literary and essayistic oeuvre - including poetry, novels, essays, plays, short stories. His poetry has been translated into various languages and he has taught at the Ghent Secondary Art Institute and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. He has given lectures at the Sorbonne University, the universities of V ...more

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