Rachel Kadish has written a work of sublime reasoning and story. However, it is not an easy read. The depth of philosophical discussion and the wading into the deep waters of religious belief at times weight the reader threatening to pull them beneath the waves. Were it not for the brilliant ability of the author to blend history, diverse characters, and timeless mystery; the book might not have succeeded. But it does. In fact, although a weighty tome, I couldn't put it down.
I wasn't a stranger to the history that Ms. Kadish writes about, I am very familiar with the inquisition, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal. I've read The Coffee Trader, (2003) by David Liss, which is about the life of Sephardic Jews that settled in Amsterdam, an intriguing read. But this book held the added mystery of newly discovered hidden documents and letters that held the potential of changing history. And I cannot fail to mention the backstory of a young British historian who in her search and rebellion travels to Israel in 1953 and finds love. I won't spoil what happens next.
So the mystery begins when beneath the stairwell of a historical house in Richmond, England that is undergoing renovation the fragile papers with their even more fragile ink are discovered, and Helen Wats is called by her former student to access them. Now the story kicks in with its suspense. What will become of the priceless cache? Who will be allowed to write the dissertation that is a career-changing discovery that might immortalize their name? But most importantly, who is the author, scribe, and mind behind the letters?
An old historian who is ill and her sexy, assistant who is struggling with his dissertation and struggling to discover what kind of man he is are both on the quest but for entirely different reasons.
The book in beautiful detail elucidates the life of a seedling Jewish community in London, the plague of 1665, and the great philosophical heretical debate on the nature of God.
If you love history, a great mystery, romance, and the questioning of life and purpose you will love this book. 5 Stars