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Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (Richard Zimler)

The year is 1506, and the streets of Lisbon are seething with fear and suspicion when Abraham Zarco is found dead, a naked girl at his side. Abraham was a renowned kabbalist, a practitioner of the arcane mysteries of Jewish mysticism at a time when the Jews of Portugal have been forced to convert to Christianity. Berekiah, a talented young manuscript illuminator, investigates his beloved uncle's murder during a massacre of Jewish residents, and discovers in the kabbalah clues that lead him into the labyrinth of secrets that will ultimately reveal the extraordinary meaning of this nearly forgotten crime against humanity.

Quote: "The key to my interpretation of his actions resides in the kabbalistic definition of evil - good which has departed from its rightful place."

My thoughts on this book: I praise this book for its historical detail, although it imposes a lot of modern sensibilities on the past.
It proposes itself as a translation of a period manuscript, but it captures nothing of the writing style of the era.
The thing that confused me the most out of the story was finding out, at the end, that the main character has a gay sidekick - which I would not have minded but for the fact that the other characters seem to find this completely unremarkable. Being gay (a modern construction) in the early 1500s, in one of the most Catholic countries in the universe, appears to be perfectly normal in the book. At the end, his gay friend even has a long-term committed relationship and adopts two kids, and nobody bats an eyelash.
The characters were also very confusing. The author did not seem to want to waste any time on them. You had a brief introduction and off to the next one with no time to feel anything for either of them.
Except for the historical part, which is very well detailed, this is not my cup of tea.

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