Review: Against the Inquisition – Marcos Aguinis

Tallit: Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.

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Based on the true story of Francisco Maldonado da Silva, a Jewish doctor practicing (both medicine and religion) under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church, Against the Inquisition (AmazonCrossing, written by Marcos Aguinis, translated from Spanish by Carolina de Robertis) is a story of integrity and truth. Forced out of their native Spain by the Inquisition – first to Portugal and then to South America – Francisco’s ancestors have left a legacy for the generations to come; the key to the home from which they were exiled, and a secret identity.

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Under the Inquisition, forbidden to practice their true religion, Jewish families like the da Silvas convert to Catholicism, attending Mass and teaching their children the catechism. Some, however, also maintain a second spiritual life behind closed doors, and Francisco’s father is one of these. Like his father before him, he keeps his faith a secret, teaching his children about their heritage only when they reach an age where they can understand.

The novel traces Francisco’s life, from innocent child, through obedient student of the Church, to considered and learned physician, with a strong understanding of philosophy, theology, and medicine. Flash forwards throughout the book show that an arrest is coming, and that Francisco will be prepared when it does.

Split into five parts, named for the first five books of the Bible (which also make up the Jewish Torah), Francisco’s story parallels the themes and overarching narrative found in the sacred texts. Stories of beginnings, physical and spiritual journeys, and commitments to God give structure and meaning to his life, while his dual identities further exemplify the significance of the same texts in both religions. By utilising the form of the Pentateuch in the novel, Aguinis also demonstrates that Francisco’s story is important. It elevates his struggles and conflicts above even the broader context of Jewish persecution and makes the book a discussion of ethics and the essence of freedom.

Running alongside the dominant discussion of Judaism’s suppression under violent Christian authority is a second narrative of persecution. The indigenous peoples of South America also hold onto a secret faith that predates not only the colonising Europeans, but the Incans who came before them. In this additional population of oppressed people, the battle goes beyond Christianity versus Judaism and demonstrates the presence of significant harm and ongoing resistance in the face of colonialism and religious and cultural destruction.

Following the arrest, as Francisco’s time in the custody of the Inquisition drags on, so too does the narrative, but, ironically, subplots relating to his family are wrapped up quickly, in a way that is not always satisfying. Although these stories were likely limited in their development by a lack of source material, the reader is largely left to draw their own conclusions about what might have happened to other members of the da Silva family, suggesting that perhaps in the emphasis on larger issues, the story may have been briefly forgotten.

 

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Like Francisco Maldonado da Silva, Against the Inquisition tackles important issues boldly. These issues, of religious persecution and forced suppression of cultural identity, are as relevant in parts of the world today as they were in da Silva’s time, and for that reason, along with the inherently interesting story of Francisco’s life, this book is worth reading.

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Thanks to AmazonCrossing for providing a complimentary advance copy of Against the Inquisition for review. It is now publicly available for purchase.

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26 thoughts on “Review: Against the Inquisition – Marcos Aguinis”

    • It’s not something I knew anything about either, but it was a really interesting read. And I didn’t realise until the end (when I checked on Google) that Francisco Maldonado da Silva was a real person.

      Reply
  1. I occasionally enjoy reading about the Inquisition. I might have to grab this next time I’m looking for a more serious read.

    Reply

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