Debut author Selz offers a historical novel about a family of Sephardic Jews, starting in the years leading up to the Edict of Expulsion in the late 15th century.
The Crevagos, a family of shoemakers living in the city of Vitoria, Spain, have largely been spared the pogroms and anti-Semitic riots that have affected Jews in other parts of the country. They and other members of city’s Sephardic Jewish community live in a state of peace and mutual respect with their Basque neighbors, and it’s been that way since the days of the Roman Empire. However, a new regime has risen—one less sympathetic to the traditions of country’s Jews. “Pressure is building from the Church,” recounts family patriarch Vidal Crevago after one of his sales trips across the peninsula. “They want everyone to be Catholic. Our choice is to convert or die.” Even so, the other members of his family aren’t overly concerned—until Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella unleash the Spanish Inquisition on Jews and Muslims. What if the family’s only option is to give up the home they love? The Crevagos’ decision has an effect that extends all the way to 1950s France, when the threats to and options for their descendants take unexpected turns. Selz effectively summons the world of 15th-century Vitoria with great gusto and vibrant detail: “women threw the contents of mierda pots filled with human piss and waste from the upper windows onto the street. The stench would be called horrific by some; however, to Vidal it was the smell of home.” The apparent goal of the novel is to present the plain facts of the Edict of Expulsion, with little in the way of superfluous plot, and in this it succeeds; readers who are unfamiliar with this era will learn much. However, the members of the Crevago family are still believable and sympathetic enough that readers will become invested in their plights.
A well-constructed, highly informative historical novel.