Through ten vivid fictional stories, we learn about the lives of Jews who converted to Catholicism due to physical and psychological coercion during the 15th-17th centuries. These tales are told in the first person by both male and female Conversos with intimate details of their daily lives during the Inquisition. The Conversos lived among Old Christians and New Christians in Spain and Mexico (New Spain). The Conversos’ fear is palpable as they hide their Judaizing practices from neighbors, friends, and even close family. The Conversos pass on their old ways to their children by teaching them the Jewish laws of circumcision, eating kosher, bathing, refraining from work on the Sabbath, and burial of their dead, while admonishing them never to speak of their secret beliefs. Conversos attend mass and show themselves publicly as good Catholics, but they are exposed as heretics by their servants, neighbors, and family members who are exhorted by the church to comply with the Inquisition. We read the real-life viewpoints of both children and adult Conversos living double lives to the point of sometimes no longer knowing which one is their true belief. Some are torn about which religion offers eternal salvation. There are graphic details of the mortal punishments meted out to those found to be heretics. This book offers a heartbreaking view into this horrific period of time in Jewish history taken from eyewitness accounts and archived dossiers of Inquisition trials. Introduction, notes, sources.
Miriam Bradman Abrahams is a Cuban-born, Brooklyn-raised, Long Island-residing mom. She is Hadassah Nassau’s One Region One Book chairlady, a freelance essayist, and a certified yoga instructor who has loved reviewing books for the JBC for the past ten years.