By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.
Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.
Below you can find the Twitter discussion of By Fire, By Water with author Mitchell James Kaplan that took place September 15, 2010. Make sure to follow Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook) for more Twitter Book Club events!
mitchelljkaplan: Standing by at the JBC Twitter Book Club#JBCBooks...
JewishBook: Hey everyone! Welcome to our 5th Twunch and Talk. Today we're discussing By Fire, By Water by @mitchelljkaplan with the author #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Hello...
JewishBook: What do you feel is the obligation of a historical fiction author when portraying history-- how much should be accurate facts? #JBCBooks
jcchouston: Twitter Book Club happening now with @mitchelljkaplan, author of By Fire, By Water. Join the discussio!#JBCBooks
JewishBook: And, @Mitchelljkaplan Which parts of your novel were pulled form historical fact and where did you do your research? #JBCBooks
JewishBook: Welcome @jcchouston! #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks My opinion? Everything should be accurate.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks But that depends what you mean by accurate.
JewishBook: as a follow-up...are there any areas you let yourself have artistic leeway for the sake of the plot? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Psychological accuracy, historical accuracy, dramatic accuracy... They are all important, but sometimes in conflict.
JewishBook: Maybe accurate wasn't the best word...but the q would be how much is based in history (re: your story), how much steeped in fact #JBCBooks
JewishBook: Did you face any specific conflicts while you wrote By Fire, By Water that you can share? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Yes, I did have to shape the narration of real events to fit my narrative purpose. Some characters and situations were invented.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks By Fire, By Water is based on real historical facts. But what mattered most to me was how the history affected the characters.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Of course, one must "fill in" a lot. We don't know the details of history. But we need to revere the truth of human experience.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Are you referring to personal conflicts?
JewishBook: How did you come to the characterization of Christopher Columbus? Why keep him on the fringe of the plot?#JBCBooks
jcchouston: where did you draw your "human experience" from?#JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks By "psychological accuracy" I mean: The best approximation of what real individuals felt, how they'd react to events...
JewishBook: conflicts between Psychological accuracy, historical accuracy, dramatic accuracy #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... and to other people's agendas...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks I "developed" the character of Columbus by reading everything I could about him and by him. But I wanted to show his voyage as...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... a "symptom" of history, as much as a cause of history...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Re: "Human experience" -- I believe the human condition does not change with history, though cultures and technologies change...
JewishBook: What did you find about the differences between New Christians and Conversos... #JBCBooks
JewishBook: did you study modern accounts from conversos during your research at all? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... That is what provides novelists with the opportunity to explore universal truths even while writing about historical events.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks I did speak with some modern conversos, although that was more about personal curiosity than about research.
jcchouston: What did you discover in your research about Columbus being Jewish (as rumor has it)? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks This issue of "New Christians vs. Conversos" is very charged. Historians disagree and the record is far from clear.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks The novelist has to use his/her best judgment, trying to remain plausible, trying to fit the pieces together.
jcchouston: Please define "New Christians" and "Conversos"#JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks The theory that Columbus had Jewish ancestry, or that he was a secret Jew, was invented by Spanish historians who wanted...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ...to prove that though born in Genoa, he was descended from Spaniards (who fled anti-semitic persecution).
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks It is true that Columbus took at interest in Jewish texts (and in the texts of other cultures) and that he had converso friends...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... and supporters. But specific theories about his identity are difficult to support, so I took him at his word, but left open...
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... the possibility that his word (and his self-knowledge) were not complete.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks The terms "New Christian" and "Converso" mean the same thing. It's a matter of emphasis. In practice, both terms meant "suspect."
JewishBook: Do you think there anything from the historical account that can be applied to modern religions today?#JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Certainly, I believe the story I tell is very much related to the contemporary world.
JewishBook: Folks, we've heard from some people that their#JBCBooks Qs aren't showing up...email us at dani@Jewishbooks.org wl your qs and we'll put
JewishBook: them up #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks "Conversos" are simply converts or descendants of converts...
JewishBook: From @Nycbook #jbcbooks What was your experience writing the internal narrative Torquemada? @mitchelljkaplan
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks "New Christian," in the context of XV-c. Spain, implies someone who strives to maintain an appearance of Christian faith... but...
JewishBook: Also from @Nycbook: Anything interesting you had to leave out of the novel? #JBCBOOKS
JewishBook: From @nycbook: Did you come across anything especially unexpected/surprising in your research? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Oh, yes! I had to leave out so much that I would have loved to include.
JewishBook: @mitchelljkaplan Anything you can share with us?#JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks When you're writing a historical novel, much of the challenge is to find order in the chaos. This involves "streamlining" history.
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks Well, for example, I became convinced that Queen Isabella was a usurper...
otherpress : Fascinating conversation going on over at#JBCBooks with @mitchelljkaplan...
jcchouston: Please define "New Christians" and "Conversos"#JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... and that she betrayed the conversos who supported her... and that the pope didn't want to authorize the New Inquisition...
jcchouston: Significance of the title? #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks But to go into all these details would have distracted from the stories of my two protagonists.
JewishBook: Ah, yes. true. #JBCBooks
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks I don't want to pin down the title too precisely. But we're talking about a prayer, life and death, the pyres of the inquisition,
mitchelljkaplan: #JBCBooks ... and the water under Columbus's ships... and more...
JewishBook:Thanks all for joining us. Anyone who'd like to keep talking is welcome to! Stay tuned for updates on our next book selection #JBCBooks
jcchouston: Thank you from Houston Community Readers!#JBCBooks
JewishBook: Thanks for joining us @mitchelljkaplan ! #JBCBooks
jcchouston: Great twitter chat with Community Read author @mitchelljkaplan (By Fire, By Water). Author appearance Nov 14th at the Book Fair! #JBCBooks