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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition - Doreen Carvajal

Doreen Carvajal was raised Catholic, but like Madeleine Albright she began to suspect that her family used to be Jewish. In Albright’s case this wasn’t ancient history, her family’s religious shift happened during WWII, but Carvajal had reason to believe her ancestors may have been forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. Even more surprising to Carvajal, it wasn’t until she was well into adulthood that she realized that while outwardly Catholic some older members of her family were quietly practicing aspects of Judaism or covertly honoring their Jewish heritage 500 years later. Long after the need for secrecy, this aspect of their lives still wasn’t something anyone talked much about, and asking questions didn’t always provide Carvajal with answers.


The Forgetting River chronicles Carvajal’s quest to find out the truth about her family’s history. To do so, she spent time in and then moved with her husband and daughter to the centuries-old town of Arcos de la Frontera in the Andalusian part of Spain. This tiny settlement’s culture, music, art and residents are still deeply influenced by the past, and Carvajal’s richly descriptive account of her life there suggests an ambiance of sunny skies and ancient stones. While she was looking for clues to her family’s history Carvajal found lingering traces of Spain’s formerly substantial Jewish population and the Inquisition that tried to eliminate the practice of the Judaism within the country’s borders.


The chapters of The Forgetting River are a series related articles that skip around in time but slowly build their case. The concluding piece of information that finally convinced Carvajal of the truth of her family’s Jewish heritage seems arbitrary, and more like a device to bring the narrative to a close than an incontrovertible bit of evidence, but this was Carvajal’s personal journey so what finally tipped the scales for her may be based on something more primal than logic. On the whole this is a fascinating, thought provoking book--part history, part travelogue, part family memoir, part social commentary.


I received a copy of this book for possible review from the publisher. I was under no obligation and the opinions are mine.