Monday, February 3, 2014

Literary Wives #7: The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis

Image courtesy of MacMillan Web site

           St. Martin's Press
           St. Martin's Griffin
            Publication May 2013
            ISBN: 9780312675462
            ISBN: 0312675461
            400 pages

Welcome to the Literary Wives Virtual Book Club for 2014!

We now have a Facebook page for those who would like to participate and/or follow along.

Our first read for 2014 (February) is an excellently written historical novel about the Inquisition in Seville in 1481. 

Jeanne Kalogridis did just what I want a writer to do, particularly in historical fiction: make me "feel" as if I am actually in the time and place, and she certainly accomplished that, though her depiction also felt universal and/or timeless. Persecution of other human beings would, unfortunately, appear to be unstoppable. This novel does an excellent job of describing the events and political machinations in Seville in 1481 that led to the expulsion of those openly practicing Judaism religious rites, as well as many deaths and much torture for those simply accused of being conversos. (Note: no proof was necessary!) I found my own heart racing at times while reading this book! Wondering what was going to happen to the characters, and needing to know asap! Not many writers can do that to me. 

I probably would not have read this particular novel if not for participation in the Literary Wives Online Book Discussion Group. Not due to lack of interest overall, but lack of time to read all the books in which I am really interested! (I'm sure many of you can relate...) I am very glad I did not miss this one! I would compare my reaction to this book to that of Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt and Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton. These comparisons simply relate to my reaction to the subject matter and such accurate writing skills more than anything else.

I am quite the wuss when reading--very little blood, guts, and gore. just can't handle it; it stays in my head and freaks me out! :) I was fearful that this particular book might prove too gruesome for me, but I could handle the rough stuff Kalogridis included. (For which I was grateful and breathed a sigh of relief when finished!) However, I believe details and the overall story of all three of these books will never leave my mind. They are indelibly inscribed into my memory, and I think that's a good thing. I appreciate knowing more about history, and I feel it is never better learned than through the perspective of a person. I so appreciate the amazing talents of these historical fiction authors! There are too many to name here. 

I was unaware of the purely political and financial motivations of Queen Isabel for the Inquisition in Seville. I don't know how much monetary motivations played into the Inquisition overall, but according to Kalogridis and her research, it was the main factor in Seville. I had no idea about Old Christian vs. New Christian at that time, nor of the persistence and constancy of persecution of Jews, seemingly everywhere and at all times in the history of our world! I never cease to ask myself..."Why?" Why must we humans persecute each other? I am still hopeful that humanity overall is capable of "beating" this "disease"! Surely we will reach a point in "our story" when we no longer persecute each other, matter what the criteria! 

Another reason I might not have read this book is that I personally no longer have any attraction to "organized religion" overall, believing as Christopher Hitchens did, that "religion poisons everything." Since I try not to concentrate on negativity in my life, I purposefully don't read much of what I consider to be negative. However, with that said, I am glad I am motivated to expand my horizons occasionally and read what I might have otherwise avoided; it helps me further clarify my own beliefs and expand my knowledge base.

In short, as you may already know, I don't summarize each book, but prefer to present my own reactions to it. Summaries can be found elsewhere quite easily. 

Now to the "wife" questions and my thoughts...

1) What does this book say about the experience of wives or about the experience of 
     being a wife?

Okay, I'll just say this first. Marriage typically includes sex--(traditionally) monogamous sex. But poor Marisol never gets to experience that in the course of this book, though she does come close, and not necessarily in a good way. I absolutely loved the scene where she opens the "other" door in her bedroom and sees not a closet, as she believed it to be, but her own husband, still drunk, holding a candle for light, stark naked with quite an erection. "I parted my lips, fascinated, and held my ground: part of me wanted nothing to do with Gabriel, but another part of me longed to be touched by a man... I [was] praying that he would take me then, while hoping just as fervently that he would not." So very realistic! Especially for a 17-year-old female, someone with absolutely no sexual experience whatsoever--the attraction and the aversion! But no sex for her! 

For Marisol, as an Old Christian, suspected of being a converso, being a wife was simply a "protection" perpetrated upon her by her father. He (mistakenly) thought by forcing his daughter to marry Gabriel, she would be protected from the newly instituted Inquisition laws, sparing her any possible imprisonment and specifically, her life. As one would expect in 1481, a "wife" really had no rights other than those assigned/allowed by her husband. She was still basically considered property of the man and he could do as he pleased with and to her. A wife was to obey and acquiesce, no matter what.  

2) In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?

Her relationship with Antonio was as much that of a true wife as any, certainly much more so than with Gabriel. In my opinion, a wife should be able to love and respect her partner, as well as expect the same in return. That certainly was not and (in my opinion) never would have been the case with Gabriel. He was purely motivated by greed, obsession, and manipulation. (Admittedly, I could easily imagine doing great harm to this man and being quite satisfied doing so...) And we can conclude Gabriel was controlling Antonio and Marisol's relationship from afar once they were separated geographically, so without his interference, I believe (perhaps I just hope) that they would have had a completely happy and mutually beneficial partnership as husband and wife. Marisol was totally defined by her role as "wife" to a great degree, although she quickly learned to match wits with those who would manipulate and control her, until she finally discovered the truth. Admittedly, I was uncertain who was going to live or die in this novel, but I was glad she would live to establish a new life. 

I felt Marisol extended her life beyond the typical role of "wife" and it was a good thing she did, because I don't believe she'd have had a chance of living had she not done so. Even if you aren't certain you'd like to learn more about this era and the Inquisition, I would highly recommend this book as an enlightening and uplifting read. I respect anyone who endured such humiliation, torture, even death, and retained their sense of self-respect, morality, and most of all, compassion. 

Check out the other bloggers' reviews as well: 

Ariel of One Little Library

Audra of Unabridged Chick

Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses

Cecilia of Only You

Kay of whatmeread

Image from Diane Ackerman's Web site
Plan to join us for our next read, 

The Zookeeper's Wife, a War Story 
by Diane Ackerman. 

Reviews to be posted the first Monday in April. 

I am very anxious to read this one, having had it recommended to me by so many people!


  1. Very interesting review. You liked it a lot more than I did. I think your comments about Antonio are very insightful. I didn't really catch onto that. I actually thought, though that the scene where Marisol saw Gabriel was unlikely. She disliked him so much that I didn't believe she would be attracted to him, and I think it's even less likely that she would be since she is such an innocent. Just my take on it.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Kay! Hopefully, I'll get a chance over lunch hour today to read your review! Looking forward to all the different perspectives!

  3. One of the thing I like best about LW is how different our perspectives are. Like Kay, I think your point about Marisol acting as Antonio's wife is very good.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Carolyn! I never cease to be amazed at how differently each person interprets the same words! It's so much fun! I just really felt for Antonio and Marisol. How differently their lives might have been if they had received each other's letters!

  4. Nice review, Lynn, and I'm really glad you enjoyed the book! I agree with Carolyn; it has been really interesting to see everyone's takes on the same story, and to see points raised that I may have missed.

    I was struck by this line in your post in particular: "I felt Marisol extended her life beyond the typical role of "wife" and it was a good thing she did, because I don't believe she'd have had a chance of living had she not done so." I felt the same way. I thought these wives (including her mother and the Queen) were doing as much as they could given the restrictions imposed on them in 15th century Spain. It reminded me very much of women I know today or in my mother's generation. They are in much better conditions now but they still live with some challenges (e.g., carrying the lion's share of housework and childcare or being told "no" by husbands (I guess that's more my mother's generation), etc.) and yet they find ways to accomplish what they need to accomplish.


    1. I agree, Cecilia! I believe many females throughout the world still face many of these same battles. Patriarchal societies are still the norm and the majority of those demand females battle for their rights. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. I am right there with you on the blood/guts/torture. I felt queasy reading those parts. And I do like that you saw so much positive in the book! I was so distracted by Gabriel that I forgot I really did enjoy learning more about the political intrigue and the religious controversy. Not to mention Magdalena's storyline. She was fascinating.

    1. So, Ariel, this is my umpteenth attempt to post a reply to you... Hopefully, it will take this time! :) Glad to know I am not the only wuss in the LW group!! Thank you! What I love about all our different perspectives is being reminded of things I hadn't mentioned in my own review! I am glad you were able to see a different side of Gabriel than I did; he couldn't have a better advocate! :)