Against the Inquisition

Written by Carolina De Robertis (trans.) Marcos Aguinis
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Against the Inquisition is the 2018 English translation of the 1991 Argentine novel La Geste del Marrano. Widely praised by Argentine readers and reviewers, the book fictionalizes the life of Francisco Maldonado da Silva, burned at the stake as a heretic after 12 years of imprisonment by Lima, Peru’s Holy Office of Inquisition.

The son of a physician who himself was imprisoned by Inquisitors until he renounced Judaism in 1605, Francisco is raised as a Christian, turning to Judaism at age 18 and secretly practicing the faith until taken into custody at age 35.

The novel captures Francisco’s recollections of his father’s arrest, his family’s fall into penury, and their separation from one another. It describes his journey from Argentina to Peru and his reunification with his father and sisters and his dedication to medicine and science. Interspersed throughout are scenes from Francisco’s prison cell, where day is no different from night, shackles encumber even slight movement, and monks pray for him to rediscover the true faith.

Despite interrogation and torture, Francisco holds tenaciously to his beliefs. He carries to the stake books written on scraps of paper with charcoal and a pen fashioned from a chicken bone that record his deep conviction and conscience, his death an affirmation of self-determination. Against the Inquisition is both a personal reflection and a universal indictment of intolerance masquerading as the quest for purity of faith.

The story of dogmatism and inhumanity is an unpleasant one to tell and most likely will not be embraced by some readers. But it is told with sensitivity and understanding. I, for one, long for more novels willing to delve into the ugliness of the past to illuminate the human spirit that, in the end, transcends.