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The Ghost of Hannah Mendes Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068483393X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684833934
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,734,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Each of Ragen's previous novels?Jephte's Daughter, Sotah and The Sacrifice of Tamar?focused on a family story within an insular orthodox Jewish community. Here, Ragen weaves an account of a contemporary, thoroughly assimilated New York Jewish family into that of their renowned Sephardic ancestor Hannah Mendes?a true historical personage who lived in Portugal during the 16th century. Through both sets of characters, Ragen examines questions of faith, responsibility and the urgent desire to ensure the continuation of a family line. Both current and historical narratives include tales of passion and romance, but the medieval tale is more literary and engaging. When, in the present, elderly, wealthy Catherine de Costa learns that she is dying, she wants to make sure that her 20-something granddaughters, Suzanne and Francesca, connect meaningfully with their heritage. Catherine manipulates them into searching for long-lost portions of Hannah's memoirs and sends them off to Europe where, as manuscript pages turn up, their ancestor's story begins to come alive. The memoirs include well-researched descriptions of the Spanish Inquisition as well as secret rituals practiced by medieval Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity. As though fated, each sister meets an appropriate man, one a doctor, the other a professional manuscript hunter. Suspense rises as they each experience dreamlike visitations from Hannah that lead them to self-fulfillment and the embrace of their heritage. Although the plot is somewhat predictable, Ragan's forte is her ability to forge a connection between past and present, while the book adroitly addresses issues of faith and family.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Suzanna and Francesca Abraham have never cared much about their Jewish heritage. But when their grandmother, Catherine da Costa, matriarch of an old Sephardic family, learns she is dying, she sets into motion a plan to bring her granddaughters back to their faith. Her scheme involves the lost pages of an ancient manuscript detailing the story of her family's exile from Spain during the Inquisition, including their false conversion to Christianity. The quest for the missing pages takes the sisters to Europe, where they meet the young men who will teach them about their roots and traditions and about love. The story told in the manuscript is brought to life by spirits and ghosts, especially that of Hannah Mendes, a real historical figure. Ragen (The Sacrifice of Tamar, LJ 9/15/94) beautifully articulates what Jews must do to survive in every generation. Highly recommended, especially for Jewish readers.?Barbara Maslekoff, Ohioana Lib., Columbus, OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I attended The Hebrew Institute of Long Island. I then decided that I wanted to be a writer. I got a B.A. from Brooklyn College, while simultaneously attending Sara Schneirer's Hebrew Teacher's Seminary in Boro Park. I loved God. I still do. But it wasn't so clear to me whether people who wore the black outfits and wigs were truly more pious, or just stuck in some social groove. I got a Master's Degree in Engish from Hebrew University in 1977. I only started writing novels when I was in my late thirties, after the birth of my fourth child.

Customer Reviews

A very good tale, beautifully done.
Though, the love story was a little far fetched, I still found the book to be a very interesting and satisfying read.
This is a wonderful book for people who view history as boring.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on September 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
Catherine da Costa is a wealthy, elderly New York Jew who learns that she is dying and realizes that the family tree may die with her 2 single granddaughters. She receives visits from the Ghost of Hannah Mendes, a Renaissance ancestor based on the actual historical figure Gracia Mendes, born in Portugal in 1510. Hannah's ghost offers advice to Catherine. Send your granddaughters in search of my memoirs.
Catherine persuades her granddaughters, twenty-somethings Francesca and Suzanne, to put their lives on hold and travel to Europe in pursuit of Hannah's lost diaries. As they discover portions of the manuscript, the story switches from the present to the past and describes Hannah's life during the Spanish Inquisition. Hannah and her family are forced to leave Spain and convert to Christianity while practicing their religion in secret. Hannah marries a fellow secret Jew and they become enormously wealthy through a thriving business of trade. Hannah uses her power and influence to assist those fleeing from religious persecution while trying to evade persecution herself. Meanwhile, in the contemporary storyline, Francesca and Suzanne meet wonderful Jewish men and fall in love as they reconnect with their heritage and learn of the suffering their ancestors faced in order to practice their beliefs.
I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover art and the synopsis sounded good. I am not Jewish and I had no expectations of this book in terms of learning something about Jewish traditions, Gracia Mendes or the plight of the Sephardic Jews during the time of the Inquisition. I can see how some might expect much more depth to this easy reading romantic story. Some difficult questions are asked.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lilly on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Ms Ragen is an enormously talented writer and in her previous works has succeeded in giving us a window into the hidden world of the ultra-orthodox Jews.
This novel is ambitious in another way. She has looked into another inadequately explored area of Jewish life, the period of the Spanish Inquisition, and attempted to bring it to life. A second theme of the book is the continuity of family tradition in general, and Jewish tradition in particular. Each of these ideas are worthy, however the presentation is not good enough.
The character of Hannah Mendes is truly a fascinating one, all the more so because she was a real person. I would welcome a fictionalized or more modern biography of Hannah/Gracia that would satisfy our craving for more details and provide a deeper look into that period.
I agree with several other readers that the modern story is to superficial and contrived. There were moments when I could get involved with the characters but only a few. The feeling I had was that the writer had only second hand knowledge of people like Francesca and Suzanne. The men were just props from the outset.
Some Ragen fans will be disappointed and some will love whatever she writes. If you know nothing about the Spanish Jews and are interested AND don't mind some superficial romance go ahead and enjoy this book.
Readers may find The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon a better choice.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
So many reviewers have already written eloquently regarding the story-line and Ragen's skill as an author that I hesitated in writing a review as well! I promise not to be repetitive.
A few years ago, it occured to me that most of the literature that has been written with a Jewish subject or main character deals in some way with the Holocaust. In many ways, I feel that focus is absolutely appropriate. As many Jewish children of my generation have, I grew up hearing stories from my own family's experiences and made pledges to 'never forget'. Yet, as Naomi Ragen so beautifully demonstrates, Jewish history goes back far before the wars of this century and Jewish traditions and faith are lost in many families. What is it, exactly, that we pledged to remember? As in her other novels, Ragen writes Jewish characters who may be 'haunted' (figuratively or literally) by the past but who continue to move forward with their lives. Even more remarkably, Ragen does not pause throughout her narrative to explain every detail of Jewish life. She writes about the lives of her Jewish characters to tell us (the readers) about them, rather than to teach us about the religion. It IS critical that we 'never forget', yet as the Abuela of Ragen's novel learns it is even more critical that we REMEMBER. I am not only refering to Jews, I am refering to all people. It is critical that we know and remember where we came from so that we can make an educated committment to what we will carry forward with us and what we will leave behind.
The Ghost of Hannah Mendez is a wonderful work of historical fiction in that it not only raises issues and ideas of the past, but also comments quite boldly on the present.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Few authors can capture history, human emotion and romance as well as international bestselling author Naomi Ragen. In "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: A Novel", she expertly interweaves the tragic chronicle of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews with the spellbinding tale of Hannah Mendes, a true historical figure of unconquerable spirit and will, and the moving story of a modem American family in danger of losing its cherished heritage. As the story opens, Catherine da Costa, a wealthy Manhattan widow from a distinguished Jewish family, seems to have everything a woman could want including a beautiful home overflowing with expensive treasures, fond memories of a passionate marriage, two beautiful granddaughters, and a life filled with art, music, and culture. As Catherine learns that she has only a few months to live she receives an unusual, mystical visit from the family matriarch, a spirited Renaissance businesswoman named Hannah Mendes who makes Catherine realize that she has failed to pass on her family's rich heritage to her granddaughters Suzanne and Francesca, the last two leaves on the da Costa family tree. Caught up in their careers and social lives, the two young women have little interest in their grandmother, and even less in their family's history. Guided by Hannah's spirit, Catherine convinces her granddaughters to seek their heritage. The girls embark on a magical quest that will take them across Europe and into their own past, a journey that changes their lives forever. Ragen's talent is endless as she moves between the present-day story of Catherine da Costa and her granddaughters, and the life of Hannah Mendes, which is told through the remnants of an ancient manuscript that has been scattered throughout Europe.Read more ›
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