The Convert

Stefan Hertmans, trans. from the Dutch by David McKay. Pantheon, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4708-4
This commanding historical novel from Flemish author Hertmans (War and Turpentine) follows a Jewish convert during an unstable moment in Medieval Europe. Vigdis Adelais, a 17-year-old Christian woman from a prominent Norman family in Rouen, France, falls in love with David Todros, a Jewish student at a local yeshiva, in 1088. Risking grave penalty and dodging knights sent by her family to find her, Vigdis flees with David to his family’s home in Southern France. After converting, she struggles to learn Jewish customs. Her husband, who calls her Hamoutal, masks her Christian origins by telling a rabbi that her real name is Sarah. After a new pope preaches the first crusade in 1096, knights perpetuate a gruesome pogrom in their small mountain town, killing David and abducting two of their children. Hamoutal, broken by grief, embarks on a perilous quest to find her children that has tragic consequences. The vivid descriptions of the era and Hamoutal’s deteriorating mental state mostly excuse Hertmans’s distracting breaks in the fictional narrative with chapters of his own travelogue (“I drive out of Brussels in the afternoon”). The novel will satisfy readers willing to be swept away into a starkly different time. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 11/20/2019
Release date: 02/04/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-1-5247-4709-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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