‘Cristoforo Colombo sat on a stool at a tavern in Lisbon, sipping red wine in the afternoon sun, waiting.’
1492. The Iberian Peninsula. Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon (later termed The Catholic Monarchs by Pope Alexander VI in 1494), are determined to expel all non-Christians. Even those who had converted to Catholicism were not safe: many were accused of secretly practicing Judaism or Islam. The Muslim world controls many of the trade routes, the Christian world is looking to break this control, the Jewish people are viewed with suspicion.
Enter Cristoforo Colombo, convinced that he can reach the East by sailing West. He looks for a backer to finance his voyage. Colombo is viewed with suspicion by some who consider him overconfident. Colombo is also viewed with suspicion by those who believe that he is a ‘New Christian’ (as a convert from Judaism). His plan is brought to the attention of Queen Isabella, and he has to wait for her to make up her mind whether or not to support him.
In the meantime, the Inquisition is underway, and many lose their lives. Then in 1492 Isabella and Ferdinand issued the Alhambra Decree, which gave the Jews in their kingdoms four months to either convert to Catholicism or to leave.
In this novel, while Cristoforo Colombo is the major character, it is his life before 1492 rather than his voyages that is the focus. His wife, Filipa, is a Christian who provides him with valuable contacts as well as social acceptance. Later, Beatriz reminds him of his past. And there’s a tension here: will Isabella support his voyage if she knows he is a New Christian? Will he ever get to make the voyage given the parlous state of Ferdinand and Isabella’s finances?
I enjoyed this novel. While it gave me a new and different look at Cristoforo Colombo, it also reminded me of the less comfortable aspects of the 15th century history of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s not a novel about Cristoforo Colombo’s voyages, instead it’s more about the reasons why those voyages were undertaken. And who wouldn’t want to escape the Inquisition?
Note: My thanks to Blue Bird Press and NetGalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.