By Light of Hid­den Candles

Daniel­la Levy

  • Review
By – October 27, 2017

Jew­ish and reli­gious­ly obser­vant NYU col­lege stu­dent, Alma, has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do research in Spain for her class geneal­o­gy project. Her grand­moth­er, suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s dis­ease and inter­mit­tent mem­o­ry loss, hopes Alma can solve a long­time fam­i­ly mys­tery while she’s there.

The fam­i­ly has roots in pre-Inqui­si­tion Spain and a fam­i­ly sto­ry, or a dimin­ish­ing por­tion of one, has been passed down through­out the years from moth­er or grand­moth­er to daugh­ter or grand­daugh­ter. Along with this sto­ry comes a pre­cious arti­fact, a heavy gold ring with a crest, and a plea to return this ring to its orig­i­nal Span­ish own­er, who is com­plete­ly unknown.

Alma’s research part­ner, Manuel, a young man with Span­ish roots who plans to become a priest, also has fam­i­ly his­to­ry to pur­sue in Spain in addi­tion to the class project. He and Alma team up to solve their genealog­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies as their friend­ship deep­ens and blossoms.

Alter­nate chap­ters bring the read­er back in time to the days of the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, where the read­er meets one of Alma’s ances­tors, Miri­am. The read­er learns much about the time peri­od and the tribu­la­tions of a young Jew­ish woman and her fam­i­ly as they make fate­ful choic­es in order to pre­serve their Jew­ish iden­ti­ties and her­itage in the face of great danger.

Romance abounds in the past and present. Along with Jew­ish his­to­ry and geneal­o­gy, lessons learned include the val­ue of chart­ing one’s own course in life, the impor­tance of eth­i­cal con­sis­ten­cy, and why one must keep a clear sense of val­ues. The plot relies a bit too much on coin­ci­dence but there is much to like and much to learn in this his­tor­i­cal nov­el for read­ers ages 13 and up.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions