The Inquisition visits on Portuguese Goa a great terror worthy of Josef Stalin, testing a fragile family to the limit.
Tiago Zarco, Zimler’s half-Jewish, half-Indian narrator, opens this rich, fast-moving story recalling the events that landed him in a prison dedicated to those the Inquisition has set aside for its special attention. Zarco, whose mother died shortly after the birth of his only sibling, Sofia, was fondly raised by his Portuguese-born Jewish father, an illustrator for a nearby Mogul price, and by Nupi, the Indian cook his mother salvaged from life as a beggar. As descendants of artist Berekiah Zarco, protagonist of Zimler’s 1998 The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Sofia and Tiago exhibit considerable graphic skills that their father has honed. But those refined talents are of no use at all when the family is caught in the virtuously sadistic grip of the Dominicans, betrayed by someone close to them. The most likely suspects are the awful Portuguese aunt Maria, wife of Tiago’s merchant uncle Isaac, a Christian convert; and Wadi, the Arab orphan adopted by Maria and Isaac. Maria detests her husband’s Jewish background and family, and handsome arrogant Wadi bears a long-held grudge against Tiago, possibly for spurning his adolescent love. Tiago’s father is the first victim of the holy terror, a prison suicide whose death was facilitated by his grieving son, the next to be imprisoned. Tiago, whose fiancée is pregnant, saves himself by professing Christianity, but his sentence to prison in Lisbon, rather than leading to the repentance desired by the Catholics, gives him time to construct a complex revenge against both his betrayer and the priest who sentenced him and his father. When he at last returns to Goa, he believes he knows whom he must punish, but he is compelled to have absolute proof.
The weird contrast of Christianity at its most murderous and India at its most sumptuous jars the senses as crime and punishment work their usual spell in this deeply absorbing work.