Sunday, April 19, 2009

Incantation - Alice Hoffman

Summary: This kind of knowing you can never tell to anyone. If you want us to survive, you cannot trust a soul.

Estrella de Madrigal thought she knew herself: daughter, granddaughter, dearest friend. But truth is rare in this cruel and unforgiving century in Spain, when Jews who refused conversion to Christianity risked everything--love, life, family, faith.

Then: a startling discovery shakes Estrella's world to the core. Emerging from a cocoon of secrets, new love burns brightly, but betrayal unleashes a monstrous evil upon her. Estrella must find the strength--despite grave consequences--to become the person she is destined to be. (Summary taken from back of book)

My review: Every time I read one of Alice Hoffman’s novels, I fall in love with her a little bit more. It’s strange. I don’t even know the woman, but I feel as if we would get along because her books appeal to me on an deeply emotional level. So far, I have read Blackbird House, Green Angel, and Aquamarine (RFS review here) and each is sitting firmly on my “favorites” shelf. Hoffman’s writing is melodic, haunting, and utterly beautiful. It wraps itself around you—with words and emotions that pour off the page—so that you can think of nothing but FINISHING THIS BOOK. So yesterday I sat in the bath till the water got cold. I was late for my Yoga class. I MISSED TAI CHI. But I finished. It was SOOOO good!

Incantation takes place in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, a time when many people were being imprisoned or killed on suspicion of heresy or practicing Judaism. Many Jews converted to Christianity to protect themselves, but still practiced the old ways in secret. These Conversos were hunted down, not unlike the Salem Witch Trials, when a single accusation of wrongdoing was as good as a conviction. It becomes clear rather quickly in the book, that Estrella’s family had converted to Christianity long ago to remain safe but is still practicing closet Judaism. While clues dropped throughout the book lead you to an almost certainty of this, Estrella, at her young age, remains unaware of the difference that separate her families religious practices from others. As tension builds in the city and suspected Jews are dragged away only to disappear, you can clearly see the chaos that is about to erupt. I held my breath, waiting, just WAITING for that moment when Estrella realized the truth—that her world was NOT what she thought it once was—that she has been protected and sheltered, but lied to by those closest to her—and that the beliefs she has been taught since childhood now threaten to tear her entire family apart.

I’m amazed at how much I respond to Hoffman’s characters. I got emotionally involved, but I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that you will want to scratch the eyes out of a certain character in the book. And that’s putting it mildly. There was a little bit of mysticism and magic in the book—just a touch—and light enough to blend in really well with the historical aspects. All in all I thought this book was, for a YA book, a vivid and passionate portrayal of the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition. It sucked me in completely.

My rating: 5 beautiful stars! As a historical fiction, there are some descriptions of the killing of Jewish families that were discovered. It's not pretty--so be prepared--but it is very integral to the story.

In one sentence: Incantation is a beautifully written and haunting tale of the Spanish Inquisition told--as chaos swirls around her--through the eyes of an innocent young girl.


Kim R. said...

I have been so immersed in the historical fiction that I have been reading, but this sounds SO good! It is the same time period that I am reading about, Spanish Inquisition and religious wars abound. Very intense, very sensual reading. Can't wait to pick this one up. Is it a "difficult read"? Or is it pretty quick?

MindySue said...

This is a very easy YA read. Once you actually can commit to it (aka sit down for more than five minutes) it's pretty quick.

Maria said...

Confession: I read all the reviews you write on here and never comment.

Confession: I am overwhelmed by all the reading you do!

Confession: I want to read these books but am nervous about the emotional toll they may take on me. (Harry Potter #7 resulted in me sobbing late-3 am- into the night).

You are amazing!!


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