In the midst of a family crisis, a young mother must come to grips with her past when she discovers her surprising heritage.
In this unusual novel, Brown (Come and Get It! The Saga of Western Dinnerware, 2010, etc.) tells the story of Rachel Martinez Ortega, a wife and mother in the small New Mexican community of Estrella. Between running her own diner, watching over her two sons, and caring for her father-in-law, Héctor, Rachel has her hands full—and her husband, Gerry, is no help at all. Everything comes to a head when the Ortega family is ordered to move out of their longtime family home to make room for a new highway. But Ángel, the rebellious older son, is determined not to move and runs away from home instead. He’s accompanied by his younger brother, Juan, desperate not to be left behind. In the midst of this chaos, Rachel discovers some hidden family heirlooms, a set of candlesticks and a Hebrew Bible that dates back to the mid 16th century. After conferring with Father Domingo Nunez and handsome policeman Jose Flores, Rachel is shocked to realize that these treasures mean that her family is Jewish—specifically, conversos, or Jews of Spanish origin who hid their heritage while avoiding persecution. Now, with her children missing, her marriage foundering, and her entire family history coming into question, Rachel must trust in her newfound faith to help her overcome her difficulties. Brown weaves a vivid, accessible story here that jumps between the present and the past to illuminate the tale of Rachel’s Jewish ancestors. The characters are fully drawn and engaging as they grapple with both abstract questions of faith and urgent matters of life and death. Some passages lack subtlety; there are a few too many lines like “She could feel it, a connection way beyond anything she’d felt before.” And the narrative offers a few flashbacks that are a bit confusing when introducing new characters. But on the whole, this novel is a well-told account that sheds light on a community and a story that is all too rarely told.
An intriguing, heartwarming tale of family and faith.