Cover Image: Against the Inquisition

Against the Inquisition

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Member Reviews

Deeply informative and intriguing tale set in South America about the effects of the inquisition upon one man and his family. Took me a while to finish it but well worth it in the end.
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Early 17th century Peru, Francisco Maldonado da Silva, Chile’s first graduated medical doctor, defies the absolute power of the Spanish Inquisition.  Against the Inquisition by Marcos Aguinis poetically guides us through Francisco’s spiritual evolution, from childhood, a naïve age when Old and New Christians are the same, to adulthood, a wiser age when he is certain of his difference from all Christians.  His persecution isn’t rare.  He is one of thousands condemned because of his Jewish blood.  What sets him apart is his steadfast conviction, superior knowledge of Christian and Jewish scripture, and courageous refusal to bend to the Inquisitions order to repent.  Francisco Maldonado da Silva was imprisoned for 12 years and burnt alive January 23rd, 1639. 
 
I am thankful that Against the Inquisition has been translated into English.  It is a beautiful and tragic story that should be experienced by all.  It took a while to finish it.  This is not light reading.  I learned much about the Inquisition’s persecution of the Jewish people and will follow up with my own research into the events of that horrific time in history and into Francisco’s theological arguments.  In my opinion, any historical fiction novel that makes the reader think, question, and then research historical people and/or events is superbly written.  Against the Inquisition is better than superb, it is exceptional.  
 
I implore you to take the time to read this novel.  You will not regret it.
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This is historical fiction at its best, rather in Hilary Mantel mode. Meticulously researched, multi-layered, with plenty of authentic historical detail, a good storyline and empathetic and believable characters. It tells the story of real-life Francisco Maldonado da Silva, tracing his life from childhood to death, in the Latin America of the 17th century, when the Spanish Inquisition held sway. Its cruel and savage reprisals against heresy and apostasy mean that Francisco is in great peril because of his Jewish faith, a religion proscribed by the Catholic Church and the members of which they relentlessly hunt down.  He has to show incredible bravery to keep to what he considers the true faith and how he does this is the focus of the last part of the novel. There are many characters to keep track of, but the narrative is relatively straight-forward and it’s a compelling story. The sense of time and place is excellently conveyed and the author manages to make a whole era and way of life come alive. I learnt a lot from the book and very much enjoyed what is a gripping tale of faith, courage, love, family, cruelty and oppression.
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I enjoyed "Against the Inquisition".  It takes as look at a Jewish doctor hiding his faith during the Inquisition in Spain. I learned a lot about this time in history. I would recommend it to those interested in this time period. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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This review will be published on my website, Beyond the Lamp Post, on 21 June 2018 in anticipation of its 1 July 2018 release.

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.

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.

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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