24 July, 2010

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
Product Details

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Other Press; 1 edition (May 18, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590513525
ISBN-13: 978-1590513521
From Publishers Weekly from Amazon.com
"Kaplan, a screenwriter, sets his debut novel in 15-century Spain, amid the Inquisition, the attempt to unify the kingdoms of Spain under Christian rule, and the voyage of Christopher Columbus to what the seaman expects will be the Indies. The action centers on the historical figure of Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the king of Aragon and a converso, a Jewish convert to Christianity at a time when the Inquisition sought to repress judaizing. Santángel is friend and financier of Columbus, surviving parent of young Gabriel, and more curious than is prudent about his Jewish heritage. While he learns about Judaism in clandestine meetings, a parallel story unfolds, centering on Judith Migdal, a beautiful Jewish woman who learns to become a silversmith in Granada, located in the last part of Spain under Muslim rule. Santángel's attraction to Judith grows, even as the Inquisition closes in and the prospect of another world to the West tantalizes. Kaplan has done remarkable homework on the period and crafted a convincing and complex figure in Santángel in what is a naturally cinematic narrative and a fine debut."
My Thoughts:
Clearly, the author's attention to detail shows in his debut of By Fire, By Water. The story takes place in 15th century Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. This is a time in history that I had not read a lot of. It is a time in which the Jews were persecuted for their beliefs. Luis de Santángel is a converso, having a Jewish heritage, and is also chancellor to  King Ferdinad and has personally convinced Queen Isabella to finance Christopher Columbus in his quest for the New World. The chief inquisitor of Aragon is murdered and Luis is suspect. General Tomas' Torquemada is a fanactic in his attempt to put an end to the faith of the Jewish people by either murdering them or forcing them to convert to Catholicism, with Queen Isabelle's approval. Luis does what he can to protect his son from these zealots and sends him to his brother to live. His brother is one of many convicted, tortured,  jailed and eventually murdered for being a 'heretic'. His son Gabriel converts so he is saved from questioning. At the same time his relationship with a Jewess, Judith Midgal grows. Judith is a talented silversmith who lives in Granada with her father-in-law and son. After her husbands death she learns to be a silversmith and makes cups and jewelry for the wealthy and royalty. Luis is in love with Judith but finds that he is also curious about the Jewish faith and learns more in secret meetings with other like minded men. As the story continues, the reader is pulled into the violence of the times in the name of Christianity and the Catholic Church and the paranoia that the inquisition causes. A fast paced and suspenseful story till the end. I enjoyed learning about this turbulent part of Spanish history. I thouroughly enjoyed Mr. Kaplans first historical novel and look forward to reading more by this author.

video from YouTube
You can learn more about Mitchell James Kaplan by visiting his website at http://www.mitchelljameskaplan.com/
I received the copy of this book from the author and was not compensated monetarily for my review.


  1. I have this one set to read and review in August. I can't wait to read it! Great review. =o)

  2. Great review! I will be posting my review of this book later this week! I enjoyed it also!

  3. Great review, I have heard such good things about this one

  4. An unexpected, compelling story. Of course, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!! Seriously, though, as a student of this era I appreciated Kaplan's attention to detail and found the story very engaging from beginning to end.



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