cover image Across So Many Seas

Across So Many Seas

Ruth Behar. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-32340-3

Behar (Lucky Broken Girl) delivers a moving tale about four generations of a Sephardic Jewish family navigating cultural and societal upheaval from 1492 to 2003. When the Spanish Inquisition forces 12-year-old Benvenida and her family to flee from Toledo, Spain, the religious refugees settle in what is now Istanbul. In 1923, an act of defiance sees Benvenida’s descendant, 12-year-old Reina, banished by her father from Turkey to Cuba. Subsequent years follow Reina’s daughter Alegra who, in 1961, teaches literacy in the Cuban countryside, until political unrest prompt her to emigrate to Miami. And in 2003, Alegra’s Afro-Cuban daughter Paloma unravels her ancestors’ history during a trip to Spain. Divided into four parts, this enlightening read depicts one family’s determination to embrace and preserve her Jewish identity and offers glimpses into the long history of Jews in Spain. Behar crafts each included era with painstaking period detail and lush language, delivering a stunning portrayal of immigration and Jewish culture and religion that expounds upon the importance of remaining true to oneself, explores themes of prejudice and racism, and exposes the harm that bigotry can inflict on both individuals and society. The author includes English translations alongside songs and words in Ladino; concluding source notes add further historical context. Ages 10–up. Agent: Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Birch Path Literary. (Feb.)