The Carvajal Family: The Jews and the Inquisition in New Spain in the Sixteenth Century

The Carvajal Family is a historical account of one Jewish family’s adventure in the New World. The gallery of characters, their voyage from Europe to New Spain, their initial business successes, their passions, friendships, and intrigues, their networking with other Jews to avoid persecution by the Inquisition, and the ultimate indignities and tortures inflicted upon them by the Holy Office are vividly recreated by Alfonso Toro.

Toro bases his narration on thoroughly documented research of great value to students of history and religion, yet his tale is full of life and of the vivid personalities of the characters whose saga he recounts in meticulous and loving detail.

The adventures of Luis de Carvajal, who so fervently embraces Judaism that he performs a primitive circumcision on himself, form the main narrative thread, which intertwines with other episodes and descriptions of everyday life and customs, food and dress, methods of travel and conveyance, autos-da-fe, trials of accused heretics, the inquisitors’ methods of torture–the rack, the water torture, the garrote–and insights into the plight and even the treacheries of the Inquisition’s imprisoned victims, who spy upon and denounce each other–including members of their own family–in the hope of evading an unspeakable fate.

Toro’s study is at once an indictment of the excesses of religious fanaticism and an affirmation of the incorruptibility of the individual human spirit. The Carvajal Family transports its readers so unconditionally to another place and time, immersing them in personal and collective realities so compelling, that the experience of reading it confirms the unique power of literature to enlighten and transform.

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