The Debt of Tamar

Written by Nicole Dweck
Review by Audrey Braver

This is a generational story that begins in Portugal in 1544. The wealthy merchant family of Mendez is honored by the Queen, who is trying to arrange a marriage between her cousin and the Mendez’ daughter, Reyna. Since the Mendez family are secret Jews, they are forced to flee to Turkey, where the family is welcome and thrives as merchant bankers. They are friends with the Sultan, whose grandson, Murad, falls in love with José Mendez’s daughter, Tamar. He gives her a ruby ring, but it is a dangerous match.

Four centuries pass, and it is 2002 in Istanbul. The hero, Selim, is the last survivor of the Ottoman family who had ruled Turkey until 1922. Selim is handsome and wealthy, a bit of a playboy with a movie-star mistress. Suddenly, he receives bad health news and goes to a hospital in New York City, where he meets Hannah, the daughter of his roommate, David Herzikova. The story now goes back over sixty years, to Paris in 1941, to explain David’s history. After her father dies, Hannah continues to visit Selim, and they develop a friendship, especially after Selim reads the inscription in Hannah’s ruby ring.

The author writes beautiful, descriptive prose. For the most part, the characters are one-dimensional, and while their motivations are clear, the plot lacks urgency. This may be the result of the various changes in time periods. In any event, this novel provides interesting historical reading but is not a page-turner.