Thorn is a fictional account of a friendship between the philosopher Baruch Spinoza and Rembrandt Van Rijn, the great Dutch painter. It takes place in Amsterdam in 1656. The Jews have fled from the persecution of the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain and have taken up residence in Holland. Strangely, instead of being obliged to hide their religion, here they have to practise it openly, as any sign that they were converting to Christianity would mean they would be expelled.
A group of freethinkers called Waterlanders meet frequently at secret destinations to denounce the strict religious doctrines of the Calvinist government. The Rabbi Morteira loves Spinoza, and has known him since he was a boy, but is determined to stop him philosophising against both Judaism and the Calvinists. Spinoza’s younger brother, a stupid man, is trying to gain control of the family shipping business. Spinoza becomes involved with Rembrandt as the painter struggles to avoid bankruptcy.
The story is told from Spinoza’s viewpoint, and from the first page the reader is enthralled by the brilliance and arrogance of the philosopher. Although the friendship and interaction between Rembrandt and Spinoza is fictional, it is totally credible and extremely funny. Michael Dean has used historical evidence for many of the characters and their personalities, and he has brought the period vividly to life. This is a brilliant book; I cannot recommend it highly enough.