“Hidden Star” By Corinne Joy Brown
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Winner of the 2017 New Mexico Book Award for Historical Fiction and named a finalist in the Willa Awards (Women Writing the West, in the SPUR (Western Writers of America) and a winner in the Indie Forward Book Awards for Historical Fiction and Inspirational.
Imagine awakening to a new reality of who you are, revealing a hidden past that has shaped your family’s history for centuries. Fact, not fiction, this experience has been shared by thousands of descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, seeking safe haven from the ruthless Spanish Inquisition. Many had already converted to Catholicism, but learned that conversion was not enough to save their lives. They established new communities throughout the world, living as Catholics on the outside, but guarding a precious Jewish heritage in secret, an observance reduced over time to mere ritual and custom.
Meet a modern day member of New Mexico’s northern Hispanic settlements who finds a new truth about herself and her family in the unexpected tumult of her life. The disappearance of her two children leads her on an inner journey and an outer one, into the past and toward a newly imagined future where she can finally choose how she wants to live and who she wants to be. Hidden Star was inspired by the emergence of Spanish Catholics and Protestants in Mexico, Texas and the American Southwest, who believe they have Jewish roots. Today, many have thoughts of return, or have already begun the process. A work of fiction, this book was inspired by interviews with actual descendants, plus events that shaped this culture’s history, and suggests that in an era of religious freedom, we’re more alike than different – whatever our heritage, we want a better world.
“I just finished reading “Hidden Star” and am recommending it to the two book clubs in which I participate.“Hidden Star” is a tour de force—your best novel yet—and a significant addition to the history of the Inquisition and the diaspora of the Jews to the Netherlands and the Americas. I did not realize the Inquisition was exported to New Spain—an appalling, shameful stain on the history of the Roman Catholic Church. A friend commented to me when I told him about your book, that the pope should declare a day of atonement worldwide for Catholics for the horrors and murder of innocents during the years of Inquisition. One day! As far as I’m concerned that falls far short of acknowledging and making reparation for the torture and murder of Jews committed in the name of the Almighty.
But back to the book. You accepted the challenge of intertwining the history of the Inquisition and the history of New Spain while telling a spellbinding, modern day story of personal and spiritual loss and recovery. Rachel’s losses—parents, sons, home, marriage—correspond with the spiritual loss of her Jewish ancestry, faith and customs. I appreciated your incorporating the Native American Indian culture and spiritual practice in the characters of Yazzi and Tomas. Your gentle, intelligent depiction of Fr. Nunez, who continuing to serve as parish priest, while acknowledging his Jewish ancestry, skillfully highlights the challenges of integrating past and present family history and spiritual practices. The reader senses Fr. Nunez’s inner spiritual conflict, representative of so many other crypto-Jews and others who question the faith of their childhood.
You dealt so successfully with contemporary adolescent rebellion, poverty, loss, marital break-up, budding romance, spiritual awakening – all in the landscape of a small, remote New Mexican village. Your story has universal appeal, while informing readers of an aspect of Spanish and American history that has been “hidden.”
“Hidden Star” is a wonderful choice for book clubs because it raises so many thoughtful issues. I feel you really captured in words the striking, arid landscape of New Mexico. All of your characters were utterly believable as well. I could picture them in my mind and relate to them. Thanks so much for a wonderful, thoughtful novel.
– Mary Kelly O’DonnellFreelance writer, Treasurer, Denver Woman’s Press Club
“I have not only enjoyed reading Corinne Joy Brown’s new novel Hidden Star, but I have learned so much about the lives, traditions, and history of the “hidden” Jews of New Mexico, that I intend to tell everyone I know, as well as my students at UTEP to add this important book to their personal libraries. The author truly engages the reader with vivid descriptions of the personalities, ideas and journeys of each of the book’s characters. I am deeply impressed with the story, the way the author tells the story, and the inspiration it gives the reader to deal with the some of the challenges that life presents us every day.”
– Rabbi Stephen A. Leon, Founder and Director of the Anusim Center of El Paso, Texas
“As you read the pages between the covers, be prepared to enter into a journey that takes you into a past that most of us do not fully understand. As I live in the present, celebrating my faith and culture, I acknowledge a history that is hidden and not fully comprehended but felt and embraced with wonder, sorrow, happiness, and inquiry. It becomes an enigma to try to explain that what occurred in 1492 could resonate with a reality of life in the year 2015. Yet, the reverberations ring true through the passage of time, space and energy. Enjoy your time reading this story, as the past is the present and strives to become the future.”
– Lorenzo A. Trujillo, Member, National Panel Roster of Neutrals American Arbitration Association
“Hidden Star is an engaging, fast-moving book, set in a well-realized southwestern landscape. The book raises important questions about how history and identity intertwine, even as the novel itself weaves together the oft-knotted threads of family, religion, and romance. An enjoyable read!”
– Dr. Gretchen Starr-LeBeau, Associate Professor Principia College
Author of “In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadalupe, Spain.” Princeton University Press
“Hidden Star is an ambitious, complex novel, spanning from the 17th Century to modern day, yet easy to read and difficult to put down. Corinne Joy Brown’s thoughtful look at the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, then and now, is enlightening and inspiring.”
– Johnny D. Boggs, six-time “Spur Award” winner
“Hidden Star intricately weaves the gray and faded threads of our ancestral memories into a rich and colorful tapestry that comes alive before your eyes. A nostalgic and poignant must-read!”
– Genie Medina Milgrom
Author of “My Fifteen Grandmothers and How I Found My 15 Grandmothers (Como Encontre A Mis 15 Abuelas: A Step-by-Step Guide: Una Guia Paso a Paso)”
“This story unfolds gradually, with flashbacks to a distant past—which elicit the sense of recognition and identity. This wonderful
novel brings in the immediacy of history with its riveting story of today, offset by several historical episodes dealing with the 16th through 19th centuries. This novel carefully layers the past and present, recalling in some ways the strategies of Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book.”
– Rebecca Benes, Author of “Native American Picture Books of Change”