GATEWAY TO THE MOON
Nan A. Talese
2018, 352 pp, $20.87
Entrada de la Luna, New Mexico, is a small town with a big mystery. Why do its Spanish Catholic families light candles on Friday night? Why doesn't anyone eat pork? The answers, it turns out, lie half a millennium ago, in 15th-century Spain. In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered all Jews and Muslims to convert or be expelled from Spain. That same year, Christopher Columbus set sail for America, and with him went Luis de Torres, an interpreter and a converso, a man forced by the Inquisition to convert to Catholicism while still secretly practicing the Jewish faith. Over the centuries, his descendants migrated from Spain and Portugal to Mexico and then, after the Inquisition spread there, settled in what became New Mexico. It is there that award-winning author Mary Morris's gripping new novel, Gateway to the Moon, begins in 1992 with the story of the fictional de Torres's descendant, Mguel Torres, an amateur astronomer and juvenile delinquent (the real Luis de Torre died in Cuba).
Entrada de la Luna (in English, "gateway to the moon") is a dirt-poor town that ambitious teenagers like Mguel long to leave. Miguel shares a trailer with his mother, a woman exhausted by the weight of her past traumas; and his father is an alcoholic who earns a living by spray-painting pictures on cars. With few prospects at home, when Miguel sees a flyer for a babysitting job in nearby Santa Fe, he seizes the opportunity. The Rothsteins, a Jewish family newly transplanted from New York, have come to New Mexico for a fresh start. Mguel loves the family but is surprised to find that many of the Rothsteins' Jewish customs, such as eating chicken soup on Friday night, remind him of the traditions of his Hispanic Catholic family. Why, he wonders, are Jewish traditions so similar to his own?
Stories of Mguel's converso ancestors are interwoven throughout the present-day narrative. Beginning in 15th-century Spain and continuing through the European discovery of America, adventurous entrepreneurs and courageous women populate this rich saga of the Sephardic diaspora. Their lives alternate between periods of peace and moments of tragedy when the ever-vigilant Inquisition rears its deadly head. These stories of how the conversos lived, loved and sometimes perished--all while hiding their roots--create a compelling narrative of survival.
In the book, many of Luis de Torres's descendants long to...