Mexican writer Aridjis's first novel to appear in English is appropriately topical in period and themebut regrettably muffles its impact in an avalanche of picaresque incidents and Rabelaisian characters. Self-consciously reflecting the discursive style of its time, the story, set in 15th-century Spain, tells about Juan Cabez¢n, a young Jewish man whose family had converted to Christianity a few generations before, and about his search for his beloved Isabel, a Jewess. It is also a critique of Spanish rule just as the country was about to acquirefor good or illa tremendous empire, thanks to Christopher Columbus, who appears here in a brief cameo role. Cabez¢n, an orphan, is taken up by the blind beggar Pero Menique, and the two men have numerous piquant adventures as they travel from city to city. But with the Inquisition underway, the dread Grand Inquisitor Torqemada is in the ascendancy, and hereticsas well as all those known or suspected to be Jewishare being burned at the stake. Cabez¢n falls in love with the fleeing Isabel and hides her, but she later disappears; Cabez¢n then searches for her throughout Spain, finding her only to say goodbye: the surviving Jews have been expelled from Spain. Aridjis's Spain of 1492 is a decidedly very nasty placewith unpleasant rulers and clerics, and only a few good ordinary peopleand certainly it's not the country suited to be in charge of a New World about to be born. Despite the current zeal to bash Columbus and his peers, Aridjis is highlighting an often forgotten but nevertheless appalling era of Jewishand Spanishhistory. But the message is muted by the mass of material: 1492 is no 1984.