Wednesday, December 29, 2010

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water is a fascinating multi-faceted look into a pinnacle point in history. Luis de Santangel is a “converso,” the grandson of Jewish grandparents that converted to Christianity in order to advance in the Spanish Christian society. Unfortunately, it is 1490’s Spain and the New Inquisition is under way and Jewish people are a main target. Santangel is intrigued by the Jewish faith and wishes to learn more about it. He is the chancellor to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and any hint of non-Christian leanings is dangerous for a man with everything to lose.

Santangel is also friends with Christopher Columbus and helps him to gain an audience with the King and Queen to receive financing for his trip to North America. Columbus is a very interesting man and is a man of vast learning trying to determine the quickest way to the riches of the Indies.

Judith Midgal is a Jewish silversmith in the Muslim held Granada. With mounting political and faith tensions increasing, Judith tries to keep her sister-in-law’s father and her nephew alive. She is a strong woman in her faith and in her ability to survive. When she meets Santangel, sparks fly, but can a Christian chancellor to the King and a Jewish silversmith find happiness?

I loved By Fire, By Water. It is a unique historical fiction novel with interesting political and personal events. Kaplan is a great storyteller, but he also is a fantastic writer. At points I stopped reading and read paragraphs again to enjoy the beauty of the language.

I loved the author’s note at the end of the novel. It is amazing that most of this book is a true story. It is a story I had never heard of before and it was a story that gave me much to think about. I must admit that at times I was very annoyed by Santangel. I wanted him to “be the hero” and make the choice to go back to the faith of his ancestors and to ride off with Judith into the sunset. But I realized that it is a hard choice that he has to make throughout the novel to ignore the faith of his ancestors and to survive in such a hard world.

I was disturbed by how the Jewish people were thrown out of Spain and were allowed to take none of their wealth with them. I knew the inquisition happened, but to learn the details of the punishment of people, the persecution of people for political reasons gave me much to think about. I am glad that I live in the current time in the United States. While I do get annoyed by prejudice that still occurs between faiths, I am glad that my Muslim and Jewish friends are allowed to practice their faiths and are not tortured, murdered, or kicked out of the country for them. I kind of wish some of my relatives would read this book and think about the message of religious tolerance.

Overall, if you are looking for an intriguing, thought provoking historical fiction novel, I highly recommend By Fire, By Water.

Stay tuned for a giveaway of my gently used review copy of this novel in the near future.

Book Source: A review copy from Mitchell James Kaplan. Thank-you!


  1. I have seen this all over and never got tired of reading reviews and also the cover which I think is glorious!

  2. SO glad you loved this book! I also loved it - one of the best reads of the year for me! Great review :)

  3. I"m planning on reading this one in the next couple of months - glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  4. I'm so glad to hear you loved this book because I will be reading it soon.