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The story of Avram Halevi, brilliant surgeon and anatomist, a Marrano Jew (an unwilling convert to Christianity) in the Spain--Toledo--of 1391. Called upon to save the life of the wife-in-childbirth of a rich Toledo merchant, Halevi earns the powerful gratitude of this important Catholic family: the merchant's brother is Cardinal Rodrigo Velasquez, the fierce local inquisitor. So, when the Cardinal soon unleashes massacre upon massacre on Toledo's Jews, Halevi is one of the lucky survivors--though he too is forced to flee. Relocating to Montpellier, Halevi becomes dean of the famous medical school--but loses his dear wife Jeanne-Marie in another pogrom. On, then, to Bologna--where he successfully revenges Toledo's bloodbath with a stabbing attack on Cardinal Velasquez: Halevi is rewarded with a long imprisonment. And finally the Spanish doctor escapes to Kiev. . . where his embattled life ends. Cohen (Night Flights) does a solid job with the historical surroundings here. (One of the Toledo pogroms is incited by a charge that the Jews had been having ""a meeting in the squares of the synagogue and that the participants in the meeting had stabbed a communion wafer until it bled."") He also vividly establishes the intimacy of exile that Jews experienced in the Europe of the Middle Ages. So, though the sex is a little flowery (Halevi has a series of faithful, passionate inamoratas) and the pace is more pokey than taut, this is respectable, informative historical fiction--with lush close-ups of some relatively unfamiliar time-and-place settings.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Beaufort