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Guardian of the Dawn Paperback – 2008
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From the highly acclaimed author of the last kabbalist of lisbon and hunting midnight comes a sweeping tale of devotion, persecution and vengeance in colonial india by the time the 16th century was drawing to a close in the portuguese colony of goa, the catholic inquisition was making excellent progress in its mission to keep all “sorcerers”—whether native hindus or immigrant jews—from practicing their traditional beliefs those who refused to denounce others and give up their ways were either strangled by executioners or burnt alive in public autos-da-fé by living just outside colonial territory, the zarco family manages to stick firm to its portuguese–jewish roots tiago and his sister sofia enjoy a peaceful childhood learning to illustrate manuscripts with their father, and secretly dipping into the heady chaos of the hindu festivals celebrated by their beloved cook nupi as the children reach adulthood, the family is torn apart when first the father and then the son are imprisoned by the inquisition but who could have betrayed them? impeccably researched, guardian of the dawn is both a riveting historical mystery and, in its profound exploration of the nature of evil, a powerful reinterpretation of othello this is richard zimler at his imaginative, energetic, and insightful best praise for the last kabbalist of lisbon “zimler [is] a present-day scholar and writer of remarkable erudition and compelling imagination, an american umberto eco”—francis king, spectator “drenched in atmosphere and period detail”—wall street journal “a riveting literary murder mystery, his novel is also a harrowing picture of the persecution of 16th-century jews, and in passing, the atmospheric introduction to the hermetic jewish tradition of the kabbalah”—independent on sunday “a fascinating novel with spellbinding subject matter
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Guardian of the Dawn tells the story of Tiago Zarco, a young man who has been imprisoned by the Inquisition in Portuguese India for being a relapsed Christian. In fact, Zarco had no idea that his grandfather had been forced to convert to Christianity, thereby making all of his descendants Christians in the eyes of the Portuguese religious authorities. The story begins with Tiago in prison, and is told through flashbacks that represent Tiago's search through his history trying to find out who might have betrayed his family. He considers the possibilities, including his aunt and uncle, who have converted to Catholicism; his adopted cousin Wadi whose motives he has long questioned; and his sister Sofia, who has fallen in love with Wadi.
I liked everything about this book, from the excellent writing to its depiction of the atrocious historical period that it describes in great detail. I found it impossible to put down as I followed Tiago's story through his interrogation, imprisonment, release, and then search for revenge. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
I found the plot and the characters to be somewhat contrived and not always so believable. Nevertheless this book does hold the attention.
I must take up a couple of quibbles with the author and add that I was surprised by the errors, given that he is taking a chapter of Jewish history as his niche. When referring to the candles lit at Hannuka (tonight is in fact the first night) he mentions the Menora with 7 candles. The "Hannukia" of Hannuka is very often mistakenly called a menora and I can understand either making the mistake or going along with common American usage. But Hannuka is 8 nights long, not 7, and candles are lit in sequence with 1 candle the first night, 2 the second and so on.
In addition, a "dreidl" is mentioned on at least 2 occasions as the Hannuka game. I am not certain of the origin of the dreidl and whether it is possible that it was used by Portugese Jews in the 16th century. What is pretty certain is that they did not call it a "dreidl" since this is a Yiddish word with its origin in German.
Sorry for the nitpicking but I value accuracy among other things, in historical novels.
The main characters of this book are Tiago (or Ti for short), his sister Sofia, and their father. The three of them live simple lives on a plantation on the outskirts of the colony of Goa. They follow their Portugese-Goan faith, while also dabbling freely in the Hindu festivals and rituals of their friends and neighbours. But then comes the twist in the tale that turns this simple family saga into something more evil. The daughter falls in love with an outsider and then the father and then the son (Ti), are arrested and imprisoned by the Portugese Inquisition. What follows is a tale of torture and suffering, misery, and betrayal. The Catholic priests who have been 'informed' of the evil committed by the Zarcos in intermingling with their Hindu friends--and by simply being Jewish.
Author Richard Zimler sets forth his shock at researching this period of Portugese-Jewish history and learning that many of innocent Hindus and Jews who were tortured by the fanatical priest. And he even dedicates the book itself "To the many thousands of men, women, and children who were imprisoned by the Inquisition in India."
This was the first book I read by Richard Zimler and found the writing style good. The way he has used the narrative style to write is good. The story flows from one part to the other. Interesting read with many of the historical facts very carefully and beautifully weaved in this work of fiction.