Finalist in the 2020 National Jewish Book Awards, Sephardic Culture category, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council.
Five centuries after the forced conversion of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to Catholicism, stories of these conversos' descendants uncovering long-hidden Jewish roots have come to light and taken hold of the literary and popular imagination. This seemingly remote history has inspired a wave of contemporary writing involving hidden artifacts, familial whispers and secrets, and clandestine Jewish ritual practices pointing to a past that had been presumed dead and buried. The Converso's Return explores the cultural politics and literary impact of this reawakened interest in converso and crypto-Jewish history, ancestry, and identity, and asks what this fascination with lost-and-found heritage can tell us about how we relate to and make use of the past.
Dalia Kandiyoti offers nuanced interpretations of contemporary fictional and autobiographical texts about crypto-Jews in Cuba, Mexico, New Mexico, Spain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey. These works not only imagine what might be missing from the historical archive but also suggest an alternative historical consciousness that underscores uncommon convergences of and solidarities within Sephardi, Christian, Muslim, converso, and Sabbatean histories. Steeped in diaspora, Sephardi, transamerican, Iberian, and world literature studies, The Converso's Return illuminates how the converso narrative can enrich our understanding of history, genealogy, and collective memory.
About the author
Dalia Kandiyoti is Associate Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.
"Dalia Kandiyoti lucidly traces the history and memory of crypto-Jewishness across historical periods, languages, and nations. Theoretically sophisticated, historically rigorous, and superbly written, The Converso's Return is a stimulating read for anyone interested in how literature makes it possible to reimagine a past fraught with contradictions, absences, and silences."
—Tabea Alexa Linhard, author of Jewish Spain: A Mediterranean History
"Embedded in a sophisticated theoretical framework and a wide range of historical reference, The Converso's Return brilliantly explores and confronts questions of memory's use and representation. In creating a new literary map based on seemingly disparate texts that actually belong together, Dalia Kandiyoti is ever vigilant to the political implications of all forms of return."
—Ammiel Alcalay, author of After Jews and Arabs