The haunting account of an investigative journalist's efforts to uncover her family's hidden Sephardic Jewish past.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Paris-based New York Times journalist Carvajal began to experience “a strange yearning for something indefinable—a sense of refuge, of belonging.” She also wanted to “fill in the deep, black holes” of memory that persisted in her Catholic family's history. Eventually, the author moved to Arcos de la Frontera, a town located in the same Spanish province where her father's family had originated. From this vantage point, she began to explore the fascinating, fraught history of the Sephardic Jews, who had been forced to become Catholic converts or exiles. She learned about the double lives of many of the conversos and the secret, often ingenious ways they developed to pay tribute to their true heritage. Carvajal also began to understand the ways in which Judaism had infused such time-honored and apparently Catholic traditions as the saeta, a song performed during Holy Week to pay homage to life-sized images of Christ or the Virgin Mary. Her quest for knowledge about los sefarditas soon evolved alongside a parallel quest for information about her family's past. Dissatisfied with the vague responses she received from relatives about family history, she pursued DNA testing, which offered tantalizing hints rather than conclusive answers to her questions. Carvajal finally found the “defining clue that resolved all doubts.” As was the case with so much else they and other Sephardic Jews had left behind, the answers, though encrypted, were in plain sight, awaiting eyes that could decipher the truth.
A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.