November 13, 2006

A link to Sephardic History

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Estrella is just a girl like any other girl in her Spanish village with stars in her eyes, secret crushes, and loving but sometimes stern adults looking over her shoulder.

Estrella is also unlike any other girl in her village because her name isn't only Estrella... it's Esther, and she's known as a "Marrano", or "pig" in Spanish, which is a pejorative term for a Jew taken from the Arabic word, muharram, meaning 'ritually forbidden.' (This references Kosher Jews' aversion to pork.) Estrella doesn't know that she is a Sephardic Jew living under an assumed identity around 1500, but suddenly things change. Books are burned in the village square. Villagers are dragged away, and neighbors are looking at each other with suspicious faces. Estrella's eyes are opened, and nothing in her world will ever be the same.

Estrella's story is a tale of pain and loss -- but of survival is at its core. Only months after discovering who she truly is, Estrella loses her surgeon grandfather, her seminarian brother, and her brilliant and educated mother to brutal persecution -- stoning, and burning at stake. Estrella's life shatters into a billion pieces not only because is she betrayed, but because her betrayer is someone she once loved -- her best friend Catalina. Once she thought she had everything. Now Estrella has nothing but memories, but hope, but an unshakeable inheritance in her heart that means everything.

Told intensely yet dreamily, as if it is all a nightmare happening to someone else, Incantation is a compelling and painful piece of historical fiction chronicling the long persecution of the Jewish people.

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