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"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream."
- Jorge Luis Borges
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The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona

The Mapmaker’s Daughter

Valencia, 1492. In a room empty of furnishings except for the one chair in which she sits, Amalia, age sixty-seven, brushes her fingers over the images in a hand-painted atlas.  Any minute her grandson will arrive to take her from her room, from her house, from her country, forever. She can take only what she can carry in her arms, and the atlas will have to be left behind.

Amalia is the great granddaughter of Abraham Cresques, one of a small community of Jewish mapmakers and astronomers whose services were so valuable in medieval Iberia that their “odious religion” had been tolerated by Muslim and Christian rulers alike.  But times have changed. In January 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered Granada, the last holdout of Muslim rule in Spain. Flushed with a victory they felt was ordained by God, they issued an order expelling from Spain all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity.

There is only one day left to comply. As she waits, listening for the sound of her grandson’s footsteps on the stairs, Amalia slips into reverie, reliving the story of her life.

Ghosts from her past slip into the room to remember with her, as Amalia relives her girlhood in Seville as part of a family of conversos, Jews who accept baptism and live as Christians. Her mother still secretly still carries on Jewish traditions and beliefs, which is a source of strain in the family but forges a lifelong identity for Amalia. We see Amalia as a girl translating for her deaf father in the court of Henry the Navigator in Portugal; as a married woman, living a false life as a converted Christian with an unscrupulous husband who commands voyages of discovery for the crown; as a young widow discovering a gift for poetry through the love of a Muslim man; as tutor to the grandchildren of the Caliph of Granada, and then to a young Princess Isabella, sequestered with her supposedly mad mother in rural Spain. Throughout, Amalia has the protection and support of the Abravanel family, the most powerful Jews in Portugal and Spain, and when her daughter marries its brightest star, Isaac, Amalia lives the rest of her life as part of his entourage in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.  

Catalan Atlas, detail, Europe and North Africa

Amalia has a secret--unknown to her family, she has not yet decided whether she will go with her grandson when he arrives.  As she relives her past, voices and memories help her think through whether to join the Abravanel family in their dangerous flight into exile, or face the future alone as a forcibly baptized Christian, risking the wrath of the Inquisition by continuing privately to practice the faith of her ancestors. “Whether I die in exile, at the stake, or in my bed with no family at my side, I do not know,” she tells herself. “But the one thing I am sure of is that I will die as a Jew, because I will not abandon my faith again.”

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