Gate­way to the Moon: A Novel

  • Review
By – March 29, 2018

With more and more ease, peo­ple today are dis­cov­er­ing their Jew­ish roots — some find­ing they are the descen­dants of con­ver­sos, Jews who con­vert­ed dur­ing the Inqui­si­tion. Mary Mor­ris touch­es on this phe­nom­e­non in the his­tor­i­cal note at the begin­ning of her nov­el, Gate­way to the Moon. The chap­ters in the book alter­nate between fif­teenth and six­teenth cen­tu­ry Spain and Por­tu­gal dur­ing the har­row­ing time of the Inqui­si­tion, and a town in New Mex­i­co in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. The char­ac­ters in New Mex­i­co have retained ves­tiges of their Jew­ish past, although they are unaware of their own his­to­ry at the out­set of the novel.

The title is an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the town’s name, Entra­da de la Luna, which seemed so remote to the Jews des­per­ate­ly flee­ing their pur­suers that they likened it to liv­ing on the moon. The char­ac­ters in the town have inter­est­ing back­sto­ries, and Mor­ris seam­less­ly drops hints of their Jew­ish past in ways that the char­ac­ters them­selves do not ful­ly com­pre­hend. There is also a wealthy Jew­ish fam­i­ly that becomes involved with one of the char­ac­ters in the town; this inter­est­ing nar­ra­tive thread serves to illu­mi­nate the var­i­ous per­son­al­i­ties in the book in ways that con­sis­tent­ly hold the reader’s interest.

In Morris’s descrip­tions of life on the Iber­ian Penin­su­la, she skill­ful­ly recre­ates Jews’ fear of betray­al, as well as the exhaus­tion and despair of those who chose exile. Mod­ern-day read­ers will learn what it was like to leave every­thing behind with­out a known des­ti­na­tion or a safe way to trav­el. But while Mor­ris writes about the hor­rors that await­ed Jews who were tried by the Inqui­si­tion, she does not dwell on graph­ic details.

In less skill­ful hands, the sheer num­ber of char­ac­ters in dif­fer­ent eras would prove con­fus­ing. How­ev­er, Mor­ris weaves a clear and inter­est­ing tapes­try, giv­ing the read­er an indeli­ble impres­sion of what life was like at the time of the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, as well as a vari­ety of inter­est­ing char­ac­ter por­traits that make this a per­fect vehi­cle for book club discussions.

Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

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