Mario X. Martinez uses stories from his family to create this historical novel of powerful Dons, dashing young men, beautiful women, and the foreign priest who did not understand New Mexican life and culture. This combustible mixture leads to conflict, revenge and the suspicious death of the priest as he was conducting mass. This is a story that Willa Cather would have understood about life and death and the secrecy with which crypto-Jewish families lived and protected their identity.
Converso is a story about small town life in northern New Mexico during the 1870's, the time of Bishop Lamy. Abran Espinosa along with his uncle, Don Moises Espinosa, discover their Jewish birthright through an old family journal. The newly-appointed priest, Father LaSalle, mistakenly suspects them of sorcery, leading to a confrontation and Abran's exile from the local church. The resulting story is compelling and surprising. Converso draws from the oral histories and recollections shared by his deceased grandmothers, Anna Maria (Lucero) Valencia and Emilia (Mares) Martinez, his parents, Jacob and Ana Maria Martinez, and other relatives.
Martinez was born and raised in New Mexico, and after studying at the University of Northern Colorado and Harvard University he resided briefly in Colorado before returning to his home state to teach and write. He has done research on Sephardic history and the crypto-Jewish experience in libraries and archives in the United States, Spain and Portugal.
The story of the crypto-Jews of the Southwest has been
told largely by Anglo scholars, at times through scholarly works, and
often through the filter of newspapers, magazines and radio. Mario Martínezs
novel, Converso, gives voice to an author from within the Hispano community
who has embarked on a voyage of discovery of his own crypto-Jewish roots.
He weaves an engaging narrative that tells the history of the conversos
in New Mexico from a perspective that transcends the dry analysis of the
-- Stanley M Hordes, Ph.D., author of To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005)
At its core, Mario X. Martinez debut novel, Converso,
is a love story. The lovebirds in this story, which is set in the New
Mexico Territory in 1879, are Abran Espinosa and Isabella Lucero. As the
story unfolds, there are subplots of the two families Jewish heritage
and a conflict with a village priest that turns deadly.
-- David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal
In Converso, Mario Martinez weaves a fascinating story about the survival of a culture, that of the crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Everyday we are learning more and more about the complexity of Hispanic civilization as brought to the Americas by Spaniards in the 17th century. While the Catholicism of Spain is evident and obvious, the other religions of the book in Iberia, Sephardic Judaism and Islam, made healthy contributions to what is today a thriving community. Martinez brings history to life and puts forth a thought provoking thesis: There are crypto-Jews among New Mexico's Hispanic community in the 21st century.
--Robert D. Martinez, Professor of History and New Mexican Folk Musician
ISBN: 9780982065778. Paper. $14.00. 124 pages.
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