The Pome­gran­ate Gate

  • Review
By – January 29, 2024

In this first book of the Mir­ror Realm Cycle series, Ariel Kaplan invites read­ers into a com­plex, ful­ly real­ized uni­verse. Com­bin­ing his­to­ry and fan­ta­sy, the nov­el fol­lows Jew­ish char­ac­ters who are reject­ed and relent­less­ly pur­sued by the world of Chris­t­ian Spain. A young Jew­ish woman named Toba enters the realm of the Maziks, mag­i­cal crea­tures with pow­ers men­ac­ing enough to rival those of the Inqui­si­tion. Toba’s place in their realm is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed by her unusu­al past. As each char­ac­ter strug­gles to evade pun­ish­ment for being Jew­ish, they nav­i­gate twist­ing paths and encounter unex­pect­ed outcomes.

The book begins with a list of char­ac­ters and loca­tions. Fic­tion­al­ized places are often relat­ed to actu­al ones, and the nar­ra­tive blends true events with invent­ed ones. For instance, osten­ta­tious­ly eat­ing bacon in pub­lic and con­ceal­ing Jew­ish rit­u­al objects with­in Catholic ones were com­mon sur­vival strate­gies, not fic­tion­al ele­ments. The nov­el depicts the divi­sions in fif­teenth- and six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Spain, where no mat­ter what Jews did — whether they became exiles, con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty, or prac­ticed Judaism in secret — they all expe­ri­enced loss, secre­cy, or betrayal.

One char­ac­ter in the book, Naf­taly Cresques, is descend­ed from tai­lors, but he’s unable to per­form the most basic tasks of his trade. Yet when his peo­ple are con­front­ed by dan­gers, he adapts and redeems his dig­ni­ty. The dream visions that his father once dis­missed as dan­ger­ous become tools more use­ful than his tailor’s imple­ments. When Naf­taly finds him­self entan­gled in a search for Toba, he draws on strengths root­ed in both his own char­ac­ter and his Jew­ish her­itage. Lit­er­a­cy plays such a key role in this deeply researched nov­el that books have tal­is­man­ic val­ue. Refus­ing to risk the destruc­tion of a vol­ume that has been in his fam­i­ly for gen­er­a­tions, Naf­taly explains that the book is not just an object, but a liv­ing crea­ture with its own pulse.”

As Toba attempts to flee the land of the Maziks, she becomes trapped. She may be destroyed, or her exten­sive pow­ers may be exploit­ed by her cap­tors. She is skilled in trans­la­tion and schol­ar­ship — fields in which Span­ish Jew­ish men, not women, his­tor­i­cal­ly played a major role. Toba can write in Latin with one hand and in Ara­bic with the oth­er, and is giv­en the puz­zling task of trans­lat­ing Maimonides’s Guide for the Per­plexed as part of a strange bar­gain for her survival.

Com­plete with dra­mat­ic ten­sion, rich­ly devel­oped char­ac­ters, and his­tor­i­cal verisimil­i­tude, The Pome­gran­ate Gate is a med­i­ta­tion on good and evil. Although the per­ils of anti­semitism are inter­wo­ven with imag­i­nary vil­lains, they are no less real in this com­pelling book.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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