The Converso's Return
Conversion and Sephardi History in Contemporary Literature and Culture
Dalia Kandiyoti


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction Lost and Found? The Afterlives of Conversion
chapter abstract

Under what circumstances have famous public figures and ordinary people claimed converso descent, and what do the claims have to do with recent literature about conversos? Opening with these questions and identifying the texts under study, the Introduction explains the book's approach to converso representations today and the main concepts, including missing archives, paramemory, the production of remnants, narratives of convergence, historical consciousness, and critical genealogy. A brief historical background follows before the analysis of the context of converso resurgence with reference to several ideas: Jewish notions about "lost tribes"; the importance of returns in the last century; the revival of interest in Sephardi history since 1992; and historical and current recuperations of converso identities in Iberia and the Americas. Before the chapter outlines, the controversies of claims about converso descent are also explained with reference to blood and the racialization, biologization, and political instrumentalization of Jewish identities.

1 Doubles, Disguises, Splits: Conversos in Modern Literature and Thought
chapter abstract

This chapter provides a synthesis of prevalent representations and tropes of crypto-Jewishness in modern literature and current scholarship and critical thinking. A discussion of "marranos as metaphor" (including with regard to assimilation in modernity) and the contrast with the "real" crypto-Jews and their descendants precedes an overview of converso representations in Latin American, Spanish, German, U.S., and Judeo-Spanish literature since the nineteenth century. A section on the crypto-Jewish body and the relevance of the uncanny in literature and memoirs is followed by the final argument about literary and cultural convergences and entanglements in the contemporary writing of conversos, which characterize the narratives that are studied in the following chapters.

2 Latinx Sephardism and the Absent Archive: Crypto-Jews and the Transamerican Latinx Imagination
chapter abstract

U.S. Latinx literature presents Sephardi and crypto-Jewish stories as part and parcel of its border, diasporic, and indigenous perspectives. The analysis of fiction by Achy Obejas, Kathleen Alcalá, and other prominent crypto-Jewish-identifying Latinx authors who also write imaginatively about converso history in the Americas is informed by Chicanx and Latinx, transamerican, and Sephardi studies perspectives. The examined works substitute the missing archives of converso presence with speculative and fictional ones and emphasize converso entanglements. As we see in almost every chapter, the genealogical and historical imaginations are intertwined in the texts, in both problematic and productive ways. The long-standing tropes analyzed in Chapter 1 regarding martyrdom, abjection, and the crypto-Jewish body are repeated but also revised, and the paradigmatic and metaphoric status of conversos is put to novel uses.

3 Return to Sepharad: Blood, Convergences, and Embodied Remnants
chapter abstract

Doreen Carvajal's 2012 memoir The Forgetting River and José Manuel Fajardo's 2010 novel Mi nombre es Jamaica stage returns to sites and narratives of erased Sephardi memory in Spain and elsewhere, narrating claims of descent from crypto-Jews. The memoir distills many of the tropes of current testimonies about the quest for crypto-Jewish descent, whereas the novel approaches the problematics around such recoveries by Christian Spaniards today. In the examination of the discourse of blood and the embodied self-production as remnant and paramemories, the implications of mobilizing genealogy and lineage are explored. They are also compared to the fictional imagination's case for historically plausible but undocumented convergences (e.g., among the indigenous and the crypto-Jews in the Americas). Spain's most recent forays into philo-Semitism and Jewish configurations of identity and collective memory in terms of suffering and martyrdom inform the discussion of critical genealogy and historical consciousness.

4 Sephardis' Converso Pasts: The Critical Genealogical Imagination
chapter abstract

Guatemala-born author Victor Perera and the eminent French intellectual Edgar Morin, both Sephardis of normative Salonican background, identify with ancestral "marranos" in their autobiographical writings. This self-positioning illustrates another dimension of the converso's return to the present moment (especially in Morin's French intellectual milieu). In this case, the Sephardi recuperation of converso identification is a different kind of selective genealogy, here called historicized affiliative self-fashioning, drawing on Edward Said, Alondra Nelson, and Stephen Greenblatt. In Morin's thinking the secretive and subversive crypto-Jewish figure emblematizes an ethical challenge to identitarianism and nationalism, and for Perera the "converso condition" also mirrors the current Sephardi one. The "marrano" is further related to Morin's idea of poly-enracinement (polyrootedness), a concept that complements the book's emphasis on historical and imagined convergences presented in writing about crypto-Jews.

5 Ottoman-Spanish and Jewish-Muslim Entanglements: Conversos in Contemporary Turkish Fiction
chapter abstract

The encounters past and present of crypto-Jews, Sabbateans, Muslims, and Turks in Spain, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Montreal are presented in 1990s historical novels by Elif Shafak (written in Turkish) and Yeshim Ternar (written in English). As these novels concern Spanish and Ottoman pasts, the chapter examines them with reference to long-standing European imagery about the conspiracies of Jews and Muslims against Christians, representations of conversos and Sabbateans in Ottoman and Turkish culture, and contemporary neo-Ottomanism and multiculturalism in Turkey. At the core of the texts are also Muslim-Jewish and Morisco-Judeoconverso solidarities and convergences as well as converso-Sabbatean continuities rarely addressed in literature. The unique narratives alert us to the literary and cultural conjuncture of Spanish-Jewish-Ottoman history and the conversos as a node within it.

chapter abstract

Taking stock of the main ideas and questions raised by the preceding chapters, the coda also considers the implications of bridging Sephardism and Sephardis and of conceiving nonhegemonic Hispanic studies and Sephardi and Jewish studies' inclusion of converso histories and identities.