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Title: The Heretic

Title: The Heretic
Author: Lewis Weinstein
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI

 

The Heretic is a history of the early beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition in novelized form – a breathtaking tour de force that is both historically accurate and unusually entertaining, so that one can almost finish the nearly 400 pages in just two or three sittings.

Weinstein’s book has accurately captured the spice and flavor of fifteenth-century Spain and the time of Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella. This success is validated by the foreword written by Msgr. Thomas J. Hartman (of TV’s “The G-d Squad”), who wrote: “The Heretic” was where I turned in order to understand the Inquisition. I knew the outline of Christian atrocities, but Lew’s book taught me about the painful positions many good people were put into in order to survive. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Our protagonists are Gabriel Catalan, a jeweler, his wife Pilar and their son Tomas. In the
story, Gabriel rose to become titular head of the converso community after the demise of Don
Alonso, a prominent merchant-trader who had maintained a secret minyan in his own vast home and was treasurer to the house of Castille. A tenuous relationship of networking support existed between those who remained openly Jewish and the conversos in Seville.

Intertwined in this very ambitious story is the secret introduction, by a Jewish printer from
Mainz, Germany, of the method printing the produce a Hebrew Bible and Pirke Avos in Seville by Tomas Catalan together with the Jewish Lucena family. Many other story lines are
included, including that of Gabriel Catalan persuading King Juan of Portugal, the father of
Prince Ferdinand, to commit himself to eye surgery at the hands of a Jewish surgeon.

In another exciting episode, young Tomas saves the life of the little son of Prince Hasan of
the Moors when he is nearly run over by a rapidly rolling cart in a procession.

While things don’t turn out well for Gabriel and Pilar, their son Tomas and his wife Esther
continue the Jewish saga well into the future.

The Heretic is a truly exciting page-turner that is completely unexpected of a University
Press. It is part of a series – The Library of American Fiction – that also includes Stories Of
An Imaginary Childhood by Melvin Jules Bukiet; Mazel by Rebecca Goldstein; The Museum of Happiness by Jesse Lee Kercheval; Brooklyn Boy by Alan Lelchuk; and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet and Weekend in Mustara by Kurt Leviant.

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