Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, by Naomi Ragen. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998

I admit I picked this book off the shelf because of the beautiful cover. Also, it had a ghost. And memoir 500 years old, that there is a search for. What’s not to love?

Catherine has been told she only has a short time to live. She is sad that her two granddaughters don’t follow the families Sephardic tradition, and, worse, are still single and childless. The ghost of Hannah Mendes visits her, encouraging Catherine to have her granddaughters visit Europe and find her long lost memoir. Suzanne and Francesca are opposites and not apt to work well with each other; Francesca is a workaholic who values only money, while Suzanne has given her life over to good causes. But they agree to take on the task. Once on the way, they encounter flawless men, supernatural events, and, yes, some of the memoir.

A search for literary treasure should have been right up my alley. But detective work is not the point here. This book reads like a sermon- a racy one at points, but a sermon combined with a history lesson none the less. The moral of the entire story is to value family and religious tradition above all else, never marry outside the religion, and that women need to have children to carry the traditions on. I could have – maybe – tolerated this paean to motherhood above career if the book had been better. But it’s not. The characters never come to life. I actually kind of disliked both the granddaughters; they were caricatures. Catherine has more life than them, but is absent for most of the story. The men are too perfect to be real. In fact, the entire adventure is too perfect.

Hannah’s memoir is interspersed with the present day adventure, and it’s more interesting. Born in the Renaissance in a family of conversos, Jews who have converted to Catholicism. They haven’t, really; they continue to celebrate their traditions in private. This put them in terrible danger at this point of history, with the Inquisition going hard. At first Hannah seems to live an enchanted life, but it’s only a few years before things go bad. She rallies, however, and becomes a great heroine. She is a real, historical personage and I did enjoy learning about her, but even her part is told rather flatly.

Sadly disappointing. 

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1 comment:

  1. Skip! Too many good ones on my TBR list at the moment