A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.



Corona’s latest historical novel is a sprawling saga of Jewish identity and religious freedom in 15th-century Spain.

In Seville of 1432, Amalia Riba is the daughter of a renowned mapmaker to the Spanish court. Her family's favored status is dependent on their being Conversos, Jews who have converted to Christianity. Amalia and her mother still observe the Sabbath, however, secretly maintaining their Judaism. When Amalia's mother dies, she and her father go to Portugal, where he's employed by Henry the Navigator in the race to map Africa. Though she's still a child, Amalia is given precocious freedom in Portugal: She translates for her father and is befriended by the Abravanels, the most powerful Jewish family on the Iberian Peninsula. When she comes of age, Amalia marries Diogo Marques, a dashing explorer, but their marriage is a disaster. Diogo is gay and has drunken orgies downstairs, and the source of his considerable wealth turns out to be the African slave trade. Amalia is relieved when he dies in a storm, and she retreats a wealthy woman to the Abravenel compound, pregnant with daughter Eliana. For the first time, she lives openly as a Jew, and the richness of this life is a revelation. Then she falls in love with Jamil Hasan, an Islamic courtier from Granada. Though they cannot marry, Amalia accompanies Jamil back to Granada, where she tutors the grandchildren of the caliphate. The Alhambra is a paradise, as is the open secret of Amalia and Jamil’s relationship (they compose Rumi-like verse to each other), but he must marry, and so eventually she returns to Portugal. In Amalia’s middle age, Portugal too becomes an impossible place for Jews; she and the Abravanel family leave for Spain, where they raise money for Ferdinand and Isabella to drive the Moors from Granada, earning amnesty for themselves. Though the novel lags by the time we reach Amalia’s old age (which revolves around her grandchildren, losing focus), the depth and detail of the previous chapters make up for the finale’s shortcomings.

A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8649-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...


Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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