By Fire Pos­sessed: Dona Gra­cia Nasi

San­dra K. Toro
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
Doña Gra­cia Nasi was one of the most impor­tant women of the Renais­sance era. Born into a wealthy and influ­en­tial Jew­ish fam­i­ly that was expelled from Spain in 1492, she grew up in Por­tu­gal. Her fam­i­ly gave her the kind of edu­ca­tion usu­al­ly reserved for men. Although Jews were per­se­cut­ed and the Catholic Church pres­sured King Manuel to force con­ver­sions, he need­ed the Jews to build his empire, so he allowed them to remain as long as they lived as Chris­tians. When King Manuel died, this changed; dur­ing the Inqui­si­tion, Jews were killed and tor­tured. Doña Gra­cia used her wealth and the fleet of ships, that she inher­it­ed when her hus­band died, to res­cue thou­sands of Sephardic Jews from per­se­cu­tion in Europe. She brought them to the Ottoman Empire, where they could live open­ly as Jews, estab­lish­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Greece, Turkey, and Tiberias.

This nov­el is based on his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­als about Doña Gracia’s life. It is a riv­et­ing sto­ry with an intel­li­gent, coura­geous hero­ine who is an inspir­ing role mod­el for young Jew­ish women. Read­ers will also notice that the work of the Inqui­si­tion lays the foun­da­tion for the Holocaust.
Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

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