Synopses & Reviews
In the year 1492, the Inquisition has all of Spain in its grip. After centuries of pogrom-like riots encouraged by the Church, the Jews - who have been an important part of Spanish life since the days of the Romans - are expelled from the country by royal edict. Many who wish to remain are intimidated by Church and Crown and become Catholics, but several hundred thousand choose to retain their religion and depart; given little time to flee, some perish even before they can escape from Spain.
Yonah Toledano, the 15-year-old son of a celebrated Spanish silversmith, has seen his father and brother die during these terrible days - victims whose murders go almost unnoticed in a time of mass upheaval. Trapped in Spain by circumstances, he is determined to honor the memory of his family by remaining a Jew.
On a donkey named Moise, Yonah begins a meandering journey, a young fugitive zigzagging across the vastness of Spain. Toiling at manual labor, he desperately tries to cling to his memories of a vanished culture. As a lonely shepherd on a mountaintop he hurls snatches of almost forgotten Hebrew at the stars, as an apprentice armorer he learns to fight like a Christian knight. Finally, as a man living in a time and land where danger from the Inquisition is everywhere, he deals with the questions that mark his past. How he discovers the answers, how he finds his way to a singular and strong Marrano woman, how he achieves a life with the outer persona of a respected Old Christian physician and the inner life of a secret Jew, is the fabric of this novel. The Last Jew is a glimpse of the past, an authentic tale of high adventure, and a tender and unforgettable love story. In it, Noah Gordon utilizes his greatest strengths, and the result is remarkable and moving.
Already a number one bestseller in Germany and Spain, "The Last Jew" unfolds in 1492 during the Inquisition in Spain. Jonah, the 13-year-old sone of a Toledo silversmith, sees his father and brother die in these terrible days but decides he must honor his beliefs no matter what the cost.
About the Author
has had outstanding international success, selling in Germany alone more than eight million copies of his recent trilogy (The Physician, Shaman,
and Matters of Choice
). The Society of American Historians awarded him the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Shaman as the best historical novel of 1991/1992. He was also voted "Novelist of the Year" by the readers of the Bertelsmann Book Club, and twice, in 1992 and 1995, he won the Silver Basque Prize for Spain's bestselling book. An earlier book, The Rabbi
, was on the New York Times
Bestseller list for 26 weeks. Noah Gordon lives with his wife in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
1. Yonah Toledano and the other Jews in Spain hart terrible choices in 1492 conversion, expulsion, or death. Faced with the same choices today, which would you
2. What were the qualities that enabled Yonah to survive? In your opinion, could a teen-ager survive in a similar situation today?
3. Discuss how Yonah's isolation limited his sense of Jewishness. Did it also strengthen his Jewishness in any way?
4. Helkias Toledano's family had a special relationship with the family of Benito Martin. What are some positive aspects of Spanish society that are revealed by their relationship? What negative aspects are revealed?
5. Discuss Yonah's sexuality. Consider how his sexual experiences were shaped by his secret existence. What effect do you believe this had on his personality and his life?
6. Consider the novel's title. Perhaps in 1492 there were other unconverted persons who, for one reason or another, failed to depart when the Jews left Spain. Yonah knew there were Jews in other lands. Why did he feel as though he were the last Jew in the world?
7. Consider the character of the physician Bernardo Espina, and discuss how the author used this characterization to impart information about the era, medieval medicine, and the Inquisition. What does Espina's marriage reveal about the society? Discuss his religious feelings, and his attitude toward both Catholicism and Judaism.
8. Examine the clandestine Jewish religious service in which Yonah took part while a guest in the Saadi home in Granada. Then consider the religious services which he experienced years later with the same group of conversos in the hidden valley of Pradogrande. Discuss the reasons for the differences.
9. Consider Nuno Fiero, physician of Saragossa. What prompted his interest in Yonah? Why was he inclined to look favorably upon Jews? In addition to medical science, what are some of the other lessons that he taught Yonah?
10. In Judaism, Jews may pray when alone, but the presence of ten persons (ten men in Orthodoxy) is required before a formal religious service may begin. In your opinion is there a connection between this requirement and the fact that the children and descendants of most of the "secret Jews" ended up as Catholics? Can you think of other reasons why Judaism could not survive in subsequent generations?
11. The period described in The Last Jew was a violent and often barbarous time. Do you believe civilization has advanced since 1492? In what ways? Do you believe we have regressed? In what ways?
12. Do you think a religious inquisition could take place in America? Give reasons.