In the Last Blue
The story of the Majorcan Jews in the time of the Inquisition during the 17th century is one with which most readers will be unfamiliar. The island, administered by a viceroy under the austere Catholicism of the Spanish crown, had been settled by Jews for generations. Most were unwilling converts who outwardly practiced the rituals of Catholicism while preserving their own religious traditions in secret.
This somewhat rambling, lyrical novel centers on an abortive attempt by the head of the Jewish community on the island to escape to Livorno, a free port where Jews were allowed to live and thrive unmolested. With a pointillist approach to the multitude of characters and viewpoints, Riera immerses us in the terrifying net spread by mostly ambitious and misguided Jesuit priests and local functionaries.
Underpinning the complex story is the tale of a mysterious beauty, a wealthy widow with a shameful past who tries to mastermind the escape from her home in Livorno, we sense as a kind of penance. In the end, her life is not fully explained, only hinted at. This, and Riera’s indulgence in descriptions that sometimes overwhelm the pace of the story, are the only features that mar what is otherwise an enthralling tale.
All too few novels in translation reach English readers. Carme Riera is one of Spain’s foremost writers, and deserves to be better known. A native of Majorca herself, she writes in Catalan – virtually a foreign language to Spanish readers as well. Dunne’s translation is readable and evocative, despite a few jarring anachronisms of language.
In the Last Blue is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Inquisition, or that of the apostate Jews who fell victim to it.