After enjoying the Physician so much, I thought I would read another Noah Gordon’s novel. So I went to one of the local bookshops. They had three. The Last Jew seemed to be the most interesting. I also picked it up because, although it is not that far from home, I have actually never been to Spain. I suspect I needed something a bit exotic.
Another reason I chose this novel, rather than the two other ones, is that I felt I wanted to know more about the Jewish community which was expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1492. The Edict of Expulsion was issued against the Jews of Spain on March 31. All Jews of whatever age were ordered to leave the kingdom by the last day of July, (one day before Tisha B’Av), the “saddest day in Jewish history” and a traditional day of mourning.
It is estimated that 165,000 emigrated, 50,000 converted and 20,000 died en route. This is a low estimate; people disagree on the actual figures.
In today’s French Jewish community a lot of people are the descendants of the Spanish Jews who settled around the Mediterranean Sea, mostly in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Greece.
During the twentieth century they were forced out of the countries where they had settled but their Spanish roots is reflected in their surnames; they are called Toledano, Bitton, Cardozo, Malka, Marciano…
In fact the novel is not so much about the Jews who left than those who stayed on, one teenager in particular Yonah. The book deals with his attempt at remaining a Jew when everything and almost everyone was against it. As in The Physician, its author manages to convey historical authenticity and the story rings true.