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In the year 1492, the Inquisition has all of Spain in its grip. After centuries of pogrom-like riots encouraged by the Church, the Jews - who have been an important part of Spanish life since the days of the Romans - are expelled from the country by royal edict. Many who wish to remain are intimidated by Church and Crown and become Catholics, but several hundred thousand choose to retain their religion and depart; given little time to flee, some perish even before they can escape from Spain.
Yonah Toledano, the 15-year-old son of a celebrated Spanish silversmith, has seen his father and brother die during these terrible days - victims whose murders go almost unnoticed in a time of mass upheaval. Trapped in Spain by circumstances, he is determined to honor the memory of his family by remaining a Jew.
On a donkey named Moise, Yonah begins a meandering journey, a young fugitive zigzagging across the vastness of Spain. Toiling at manual labor, he desperately tries to cling to his memories of a vanished culture. As a lonely shepherd on a mountaintop he hurls snatches of almost forgotten Hebrew at the stars, as an apprentice armorer he learns to fight like a Christian knight. Finally, as a man living in a time and land where danger from the Inquisition is everywhere, he deals with the questions that mark his past. How he discovers the answers, how he finds his way to a singular and strong Marrano woman, how he achieves a life with the outer persona of a respected Old Christian physician and the inner life of a secret Jew, is the fabric of this novel. The Last Jew is a glimpse of the past, an authentic tale of high adventure, and a tender and unforgettable love story. In it, Noah Gordon utilizes his greatest strengths, and the result is remarkable and moving.
Set in Spain under the Inquisition, this latest big historical novel from Gordon (Shaman; The Rabbi) follows the adventures of young Yonah Helkias as he stays true to his Jewish faith, escapes from misadventures and finds love. In Toledo, in 1489, a precious reliquary of a Christian saint, crafted by Yonah's silversmith father, disappears; Yonah's older brother, who was delivering the relic, is found dead; and compassionate physician Bernardo Espina begins to investigate the theft and murder. Meanwhile, the Inquisition starts to target Jews, including conversos like Espina (Jews by birth who have entered the Catholic church). The bulk of the novel takes place three years later, when the deadline for all Jews to leave Spain has arrived. Yonah, aged 13, joins thousands of his co-religionists headed for Spanish borders and ports, but instead of departing, Yonah remains behind. After witnessing Espina's death in an auto-da-f , Yonah leads a fugitive existence as a farmer, a shepherd, a cathedral laborer, a pot repairer, a seaman and, finally, as an apprentice armorer under the demanding master Manuel Fierro. Delivering armor, he returns to Toledo, where he bargains with his family's persecutors to escape a dangerous rendezvous with relic smugglers. Then Yonah's master is fatally double-crossed; after avenging him, Yonah heads to Saragossa, where Fierro's brother trains him to become--like the heroes of Gordon's The Physician and Shaman--a doctor. Yonah changes his name to Ramon Callico, marries a woman who knows his secret, but never gives up his desire to restore Espina's honor to his son, the stolen relic to the Church or his own soul to Judaism. Gordon has earned an international audience for his impressively documented historical narratives, his compassion for the trials of migr s and his intricate descriptions of Renaissance crafts. Through a crowded landscape of characters and incidents, he illuminates the choices history forces on individuals--and, not incidentally, creates a grand, informative adventure and a completely engaging, unsentimental portrait of a turbulent time.