- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (November 16, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312281250
- ISBN-13: 978-0312281250
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: A Novel Paperback – November 16, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Opulent prose, brave female characters and an emphasis on the importance of family and tradition distinguish the latest from bestselling Ragen (Jephte's Daughter). Catherine da Costa is a wealthy New York matron, secure in everything but the future. Having just learned she is to die soon, she fears the family tree will perish as well, since her two 20-something granddaughters, Suzanne and Francesca, are as yet unmarried. Then one night she is visited by a ghost from the distant past her eponymous Renaissance ancestor who urges Catherine to search for the missing pages of a manuscript she wrote. The text is a precious document detailing how, as a Sephardic Jew, she braved the terrors of the Inquisition and went on to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the world. Using her own impending demise as emotional blackmail, Catherine sends the oil-and-water duo of Suzanne and Francesca one devoted to liberal causes, the other to business to Europe to hunt for the pages. Their journey leads to globe-trotting adventure, passionate romance, sibling reconciliation and a disclosure of Hannah's secrets for survival: endurance and faith. The fact that the Nasi-Mendes family is real, with descendants all over the world, adds depth to the fiction, and Ragen uses harrowing descriptions of torture to explain how family members could be forced to turn against one another to avoid the worst of the Inquisition. Moreover, she succeeds in driving home her message about the value of hanging onto cultural identity through maintaining a connection with history, thereby giving a sense of meaning to the present. Fans of her previous work will not be disappointed. Agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM.
Copyright 2001 Cahners 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. How does a family instill the importance of tradition, respect for our ancestors and maintain a sense of our family values? The author concludes the story with the simplest of all solutions facilitated by a ghost, but in the real world interfaith marriages, marriages without children or living single are becoming increasingly common choices. I do understand the message that embracing our roots is part of each person's wonderful uniqueness and that the freedom to practice what you believe is not a right that should be taken for granted. The themes of religion, tradition and family are common to humanity and were certainly touching in this book. But the tone was very light and I didn't take the book too seriously.
Overall, this was a fun read with a happy ending.
Problem #1: The characters were flat, trite, and annoying. Catherine da Costa, the matriarch, was extremely flat. Somehow, she failed to instill Jewish values in her grandchildren and she sends her grandchildren on a quest to find out about their ancestor Gracia Mendes and their Jewish heritage when she finds out she is dying. Her daughter Janice is a cliched Reform Jewish American Princess from New York. The granddaughters - Suzanne and Francesca - are essentially parodies of Reform Jewish women in their twenties.
Problem #2: The writing is stilted. I dreaded the portions about the contemporary characters because I didn't care about them. I really wanted to know more about Gracia Mendes and crypto-Judaism. Unfortunately, I ended up getting about as much information about Gracia Mendes as I did reading her wikipedia entry. Likewise I learned as much about the Spanish Inquisition as I could get from a wikipedia search. The history is very elementary and the author never fully develops the Gracia Mendes portions.
Problem #3: Gracia Mendes' ghost supposedly visits Catherine, Francesca, and Suzanne and eventually Francesca and Suzanne visit with her. The ghost story was really poorly done. I did not think it added to the story at all.
Problem #4: The book is VERY preachy. The author is an orthodox Jew who clearly looks down on Reform and possibly even Conservative Judaism. She went on and on and on about the need to only marry Jews. I found myself skipping those parts.
Overall, I cannot recommend this book.