From Publishers Weekly
Picking up where he left off in The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Zimler tracks the travails of a young Jewish manuscript illustrator who flees with his family from Portugal to India to escape the Portuguese Inquisition in the last decades of the 16th century. Tiago Zarco, whom his family calls Ti, is the precocious protagonist, and he and his family constantly face religious persecution, particularly when Ti's sister Sofia develops an ill-fated attraction for her cousin, a Moor nicknamed Wadi. Ti, meanwhile, has his own troubles, which revolve around his romance with Tejal, the beautiful Hindu girl he hopes to marry. Family betrayal eventually leads to the arrest of Ti's father for his involvement with the "secret Jews," a group targeted by the Catholic authorities. Ti ends up in prison as well, but, upon his "confession" and release, he embarks on a complex mission to avenge his father. The narrative and dialogue are occasionally melodramatic, but the historical authority in Zimler's prose is impressive, as is his surefooted plotting and formidable character writing. The riveting final chapters pick up the pace, a welcome change from the novel's overall slow burn. Still, Zimler's treatment of an obscure period of history makes for an exotic, colorful novel.
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Zimler returns to the family of Berekiah Zarco, hero of the searing Last Kabbalist of Lisbon
(1998), in his latest novel about the Portuguese Jews of the sixteenth century. The story picks up in the 1590s as Tiago Zarco, great-great grandchild of Berekiah, comes of age in Goa, India, where many Portuguese Jews have immigrated to escape forced conversion to Christianity. But the long arm of the Inquisition reaches even to colonial India, where resident Jews dodge the ruling Catholics and live together with the local Hindus. Zimler effectively juxtaposes another saga of horrifying religious persecution (Tiago narrates most of the novel from a prison cell) against a tender, multicultural love story that transcends the historical moment, touching readers with its similarity to contemporary tales of star-crossed lovers ("We were venturing forth from out of the mystery of ourselves"). The density of Zimler's prose may put off some, but his powerful evocation of a world not so very different from ours strikes a universal chord during yet another age of cultural and religious disharmony. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved