The Convert

Pantheon. Feb. 2020. 304p. fr. from Flemish by David McKay. ISBN 9781524747084. $27.95. F
The daughter of a Christian Viking, Vigdis Adelais was born in Rouen, France, in the year 1070. Hertmans (War and Turpentine) uses historical documents to reimagine her life from her carefree early years as a young lady from a wealthy family to her daring marriage to a Jewish man. Given her intense love of David, she becomes a convert, embracing the Jewish faith, learning the Hebrew language, and taking the name Sarah Hamoutal Todros as fitting to the daughter-in-law of the chief rabbi of southern France. Her happiness is short-lived, however, as the young couple become fugitives, fleeing the Norman knights sent by her father to retrieve her. Barely escaping this threat, they, and the other Jewish people in their settlement, are set upon by soldiers of the First Crusade. Hamoutal’s husband dies a gruesome death before her eyes, her children are taken from her, and she treks through France, Italy, and Alexandria to reach Cairo, where she believes safety is possible.
VERDICT Utterly spellbinding and brilliantly translated, this prize-worthy journey through time will pull readers in and won’t let go until the very last page. A great choice for discussion groups. [See Prepub Alert, 8/5/19.]
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