Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Faith of Remembrance: Marrano Labyrinths

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Faith of Remembrance: Marrano Labyrinths

Article excerpt

The Faith of Remembrance: Marrano Labyrinths. By Nathan Wachtel. Translated by Nikki Halpern. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2013. Pp. xiv, 390. $59.95. ISBN 978-0-8122-4455-7.)

First appearing in French some thirteen years ago, this genuinely excellent book, now in a very viable English translation, is scholarly and serious-minded, yet replete with humanity and, on occasion, even subtle humor. Historically grounded in a past that still profoundly informs the present, it is proffered to specialists and laity alike in the best tradition of the humanities, with reserve and dignity, not to mention vigor and verve. The author wends his way through mazes- the "Marrano labyrinths" of his subtitle-illuminating along the way the stories of real people of Iberian extraction, who lived mostly during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In some instances, however, Nathan Wachtel extends his reach well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He brings to bear an anthropologist's cultural perspicacity, together with the narrative sensibilities of an historian. In so doing, he comes to participate himself in the exercise of collective and individual memory he describes. Faithfully evoking images from a fleeting past that in most instances has yet to be recounted, let alone reconciled, he strives-with noteworthy success-to know the lives and deaths of people who in his prose become so much more than mere names and dates registered in an historical archive. Whereas such peripatetic personalities may wander around the Iberian world or at least across large tracts of it, Wachtel's text, although itself generally quite expansive, is closely and carefully focused. With precision, elegantly but still effusively, he shows how such "lived-in" phenomena as modernity, secularism, and globalization are not an exclusive purview of our time and place. His characters may remain as representatives of categories and characteristics, moving in and out of networks, affiliations, associations, and affinities, while remaining unique individuals. Paradoxically, their diverse loyalties and, curiously enough, multiple ethnicities could leave them in relative isolation, effectively bereft of any real recourse from persecution or any refuge from prosecution by the Inquisition. …

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