The Last Jew

Noah Gordon, Author
Noah Gordon, Author Thomas Dunne Books $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-26504-5
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 517 pages - 978-0-7515-3062-9
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-312-30053-1
Mass Market Paperbound - 373 pages - 978-0-312-97839-6
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4668-6673-7
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Set in Spain under the Inquisition, this latest big historical novel from Gordon (Shaman; The Rabbi) follows the adventures of young Yonah Helkias as he stays true to his Jewish faith, escapes from misadventures and finds love. In Toledo, in 1489, a precious reliquary of a Christian saint, crafted by Yonah's silversmith father, disappears; Yonah's older brother, who was delivering the relic, is found dead; and compassionate physician Bernardo Espina begins to investigate the theft and murder. Meanwhile, the Inquisition starts to target Jews, including conversos like Espina (Jews by birth who have entered the Catholic church). The bulk of the novel takes place three years later, when the deadline for all Jews to leave Spain has arrived. Yonah, aged 13, joins thousands of his co-religionists headed for Spanish borders and ports, but instead of departing, Yonah remains behind. After witnessing Espina's death in an auto-da-f , Yonah leads a fugitive existence as a farmer, a shepherd, a cathedral laborer, a pot repairer, a seaman and, finally, as an apprentice armorer under the demanding master Manuel Fierro. Delivering armor, he returns to Toledo, where he bargains with his family's persecutors to escape a dangerous rendezvous with relic smugglers. Then Yonah's master is fatally double-crossed; after avenging him, Yonah heads to Saragossa, where Fierro's brother trains him to become--like the heroes of Gordon's The Physician and Shaman--a doctor. Yonah changes his name to Ramon Callico, marries a woman who knows his secret, but never gives up his desire to restore Espina's honor to his son, the stolen relic to the Church or his own soul to Judaism. Gordon has earned an international audience for his impressively documented historical narratives, his compassion for the trials of migr s and his intricate descriptions of Renaissance crafts. Through a crowded landscape of characters and incidents, he illuminates the choices history forces on individuals--and, not incidentally, creates a grand, informative adventure and a completely engaging, unsentimental portrait of a turbulent time. (Aug.)
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