Guardian of the Dawn

Written by Richard Zimler
Review by Sarah Johnson

It is 1592, in the Indian port city of Goa. From his prison cell, Tiago Zarco tells his life story while awaiting his trial for heresy. As he relates, the precocious Ti grows up secure in the affections of his loving father, his younger sister, Sofia, and their protective Hindu cook. Their forebears had fled Portugal decades earlier to escape forced conversions to Christianity; they now reside on a plantation just outside Goa, for Jews cannot live inside Portuguese territory. The colony is a colorful yet uneasy mix of cultures and religions—Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam—even within Ti’s own family. When the siblings are older, Ti’s adopted cousin Wadi, a Moor, destroys the close relationship between him and Sofia. Soon after, the Inquisition comes calling. Ti’s beloved father is carted off to prison, setting Ti on a dangerous path to discover who betrayed him and his family.

This is the third volume in Zimler’s luminously written series about the Zarcos, Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. While the beginning reads like a nostalgic coming-of-age story—though in an exotic locale—a more suspenseful tone steps in halfway through. Its last sections deliver a warning on the dangerous sweetness of revenge, and how it can lead to a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. As haunting and mysterious as India itself can be, this novel delves into the darkest currents of the human mind and heart. Few readers will emerge untouched.