Title: Expulsion: A Novel of the Spanish Inquisition
Sherry V. Ostroff
On the surface, the Spanish Inquisition and eventual Expulsion posed a decision to Jewish citizens: convert to Christianity, leave the country, or face the wrath of the civil or church leadership. However, as Sherry V. Ostroff’s novel Expulsion illustrates, the choices at hand often carried consequences that made the matter far more complex. Ostroff’s Expulsion is the story of immense loss, fear, and attempting to salvage what remains when what was guaranteed is gone.
Expulsion tells the story of Basseva Seneor, a young woman who lives with her siblings and her father, a religious leader with strong connections to the monarchy. While Basseva is aware of an inquisition of Conversos under suspicion that they are secretly reverting to Jewish practices, she has no reason to believe that she, the daughter of a well-respected wealthy Jewish man, is in danger. In the beginning, Basseva is mostly preoccupied with preparations for her engagement to Samuel, the son of Jewish leader Isaac Abravanel, a preoccupation interrupted only briefly by the public arrest of two Conversa women accused of Judaizing.
Upon meeting Samuel for the first time, Basseva is almost instantly caught in a whirlwind romance with her betrothed. Her life trajectory, for a period of time, seems clear: a life of continued comfort in Spain, an attractive, intellectual husband, and a loving family around her. However, this simplicity is brought to an abrupt halt when Basseva’s father brings news of an Expulsion, dictating that they, along with all other Jewish people in the country, must convert or leave their comfortable and familiar home in a matter of months. As her family plans to move to Portugal and her betrothed tells her of plans to move to Naples, it becomes a reality for Basseva that these guarantees of comfort and unity are no longer a given for her and her family.
Basseva’s life is further disrupted when she is arrested by the church for crimes that are not disclosed to her. She spends several weeks being threatened, starved, humiliated, and neglected in a monastery that has been converted into a prison, all the while wondering why she has been arrested, whether or not someone from her family is coming to save her, and whether or not she will survive this ordeal. When she is ultimately spared at the last moment from being burned at the stake in an auto de fe, she learns that her life comes with a difficult price that will derail all of her remaining ideas of her life and future. As new information continues to unfold, Basseva is forced to create a life she would never originally have planned for herself, but one she must embrace in order to survive.
Sherry Ostroff’s Expulsion is a gripping, heartbreaking narrative about loss and the difficult choices that arose during the Spanish Inquisition, with heavy consequences accompanying all options. As they turn the pages of the book, readers will find themselves hoping for the safety of Basseva and the Seneor family, and they will end the book aching for what she and her family have been forced to leave behind.