Book Review Thursday: The Mapmaker’s Daughter

Mapmakers DaughterThis book, written by Laurel Corona, tells the story of a Jewish family’s struggle to keep their Jewish faith alive while being persecuted in fifteenth century Spain.  Amalia Cresque (her Jewish name) came from a family of skilled mapmakers.  So skilled were they that Catholic monarchs overlooked some Jews, especially those in Amalia’s family, because they valued their mapmaking and business acumen above all else.

During that era which eventually led to the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism.  Thereafter, they were referred to as “conversos”, signifying they had converted from Judaism to Catholicism.  Amalia’s father was one Jew who did convert and used the name “Riba” instead of “Cresque”.  Although her father was adamant that his family follow Catholicism and shed all references to Judaism, Amalia and her mother continued to practice their Jewish faith in secret.

The book takes the reader on a journey through Amalia’s life, harrowing at times, as she continued to adamantly cling to her birth faith.  Intertwined throughout the story are recognizable historic figures, such as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Aragon, who famously sent Christopher Columbus on his journey to the Americas and Tomás de Torquemada, the first Grand Inquisitor who led efforts to expel all Jews from Spain.

Amalia finds herself in a loveless marriage and gives birth to her only child, a daughter.  After her husband is killed while exploring Africa, she and her daughter find refuge among other Jewish families.  As the story continues, it becomes more complex as the other families are brought into the narrative.  At one point, Amalia falls in love with a staunch Muslim, but in the end she is turned away because it was not possible for her to marry and give him children.

The book alternatively switches back from Amalia’s “present” to the future, circa 1492 when she is looking back on events throughout her life.  It’s a well-researched narrative about a part of history I didn’t know much about and it was fascinating, albeit a little tedious at times.  One thing I did notice was that the language used seemed a bit crude at times, almost like it was tinged with modern day vernacular.  In a way that spoiled it somewhat for me, as well as some of the intimate parts of Amalia’s life which came across as a bit gratuitous (these passages are brief, however).

Although I wasn’t sure I could get into the subject matter, it was an interesting book which surprisingly held my interest and kept me reading.  If you want to know more about the persecution of Jews in this tumultuous era, as seen through the eyes of a woman of determined Jewish faith, pick up a copy at your local library and enjoy.

Rating:  ★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

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© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.

 

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