Imagine awakening to a new reality of who you are, revealing a hidden past that has shaped your family’s history for centuries. Actual fact, not fiction, this experience has been shared by thousands of descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, seeking safe haven from the dreaded Spanish Inquisition. Many had already converted to Catholicism, but learned that conversion was not enough to save their lives. They established new communities throughout the world, living as Catholics or Protestants on the outside but guarding a precious Jewish heritage, reduced over time to mere ritual and custom. Meet a modern day member of New Mexico’s northern Hispanic settlements who finds a new truth about herself and her family in the unexpected tumult of her life. The disappearance of her two children leads her on an inner journey and an outer one, into the past and towards a future where she can finally choose how she wants to live and who she wants to be.
About the Author: Corinne Joy Brown
Denverite Corinne Joy Brown is a multi-published author, professional writer and editor. In addition to a passion for Western history and culture, she’s devoted her first two novels to the question of identity: MacGregor’s Lantern, a story about Scots in the frontier West, and Sanctuary Ranch, a saga of love and transformation. The history of crypto, or hidden Jews in the American Southwest, descendants of those who fled the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago, became the ultimate stage for questions about selfhood and belief, faith and identity. Hidden Star explores the answers. The current publisher/editor of HaLapid (the journal of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies), Corinne is also a past president of the Denver Woman’s Press Club, a Fellow of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and was a presenter at the inauguration of the International Anusim Center for Return in El Paso, Texas in 2014, serving Christian returnees interested in reclaiming their Jewish past. Corinne is a frequent contributor to local publications and a partner in a contemporary home furnishings and design firm, Roche Bobois International Design.
“I have not only enjoyed reading Corinne Joy Brown’s new novel Hidden Star, but have learned so much about the lives, traditions, and history of the “hidden” Jews of New Mexico, that I intend to tell everyone I know, as well as my students at UTEP, to add this important book to their personal libraries. The author truly engages the reader with vivid descriptions of the personalities, ideas and journeys of each of the book’s characters. I am deeply impressed with the story, the way the author tells the story, and the inspiration it gives the reader to deal with the some of the challenges that life presents us every day.” —Rabbi Stephen A. Leon Founder and Director of the Anusim Center of El Paso, Texas “Hidden Star is an engaging, fast-moving book, set in a well-realized Southwestern landscape. The book raises important questions about how history and identity intertwine, even as the novel itself weaves together the oft-knotted threads of family, religion, and romance. An enjoyable read!” —Dr. Gretchen Starr-LeBeau Associate Professor Principia College Author of In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadalupe, Spain. Princeton University Press “Hidden Star is an ambitious, complex novel, spanning from the seventeenth century to modern day, yet easy to read and difficult to put down. Corinne Joy Brown’s thoughtful look at the crypto-Jews of New Mexico, then and now, is enlightening and inspiring.” —Johnny D. Boggs Six-time Spur Award winner and distinguished New Mexico author “Hidden Star intricately weaves the gray and faded threads of our ancestral memories into a rich and colorful tapestry that comes alive before your eyes. A nostalgic and poignant must-read!” — Genie Medina Milgrom Author of My Fifteen Grandmothers and How I Found My 15 Grandmothers (Como Encontre A Mis 15 Abuelas: A Step-by-Step Guide: Una Guia Paso a Paso)” “As you read these pages, begin a journey that takes you into a past most do not fully understand. As I celebrate my faith and culture, I acknowledge a history hidden and not fully comprehended, but embraced with wonder, sorrow, happiness and inquiry. How can what occurred in 1492 resonate in 2015? Reverberations ring true through the passage of time and space. Enjoy this story, as the past is the present and strives to become the future.” —Lorenzo A. Trujillo, Ed.D., J.D. Attorney/professor/author and fourteenth generation descendant of the original settlers of New Mexico || REVIEWS: May 2016 Hidden Star (review for HaLapid, the journal of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, Spring 2016) A good novel is the story of a journey, whether over time, space, or in the heart. Corinne Joy Brown's new novel, Hidden Star (Freisen Press, 2016), presents a compelling weave of journeys, a story that captivates the reader from the very first page. It is common today to begin an historical novel with a prologue to present foundational material from a different era than the main story's time, providing context for what comes next. Hidden Star follows that standard route, but immediately immerses us in the gripping story of Rebeca, forcibly betrothed to the powerful, lecherous alcalde. (Brown uses Spanish spellings for historical accuracy, shifting to English spellings when reaching the present, a technique much appreciated by readers familiar with the times and locations, but in lesser hands possibly confusing to someone outside the "fold." Here, it works.) From the mesmerizing story in the prologue we shift to the present, and Rachel's journey. Hers is one of the heart and soul. Her two sons disappear. Nothing more terrifying can happen to a parent, and she must bear the burden alone, her shiftless husband having run off, ostensibly to find a new place for the family to live. The children's disappearance is not her only sorrow: Their home - the family's home for generations - has been taken by eminent domain, and she must stand alone to watch its destruction. "Thick walls disintegrated into pulverized adobe and time." Exactly. But in its destruction she finds a mysterious "safe room" and a box containing the last elements of her own family's history. It is the history of the hidden Jews, and that legacy is hers. Rachel's journey of self-discovery is paralleled by her discovery of the vast network of crypto-Jews in present day New Mexico. Many still practice Catholicism outwardly, long after that necessity has passed, because that, in essence, is the real story of the Hidden Ones. The tension of the blend is an elemental part of this people, and one is well advised to remember that. Father Núñez makes this point, giving the book a perception and complexity too often missing from stories of "return." Woven into this already layered story is the story of the descendents of Rebeca, interspersed as Rachel learns her own history. And her older son, the struggling 12-year-old Ángel, leads us on his personal journey, as he rebels against an absent, no-good father and a system that doesn't let him be one thing or another. Add a romance with Flores, the sheriff, a crypto-Jew himself, and the participation of a Native American who cannot fit in, and Brown has created a web of seekers, all with journeys filled with unimaginable consequences. The rugged New Mexico terrain plays a distinctive role in all of the stories, and that landscape is both lovingly and unflinchingly rendered throughout. Indeed New Mexico is its own character, lending context and intrigue to the book. As we track Ángel's terrified and bravado-filled escape through the mountains we can only be awed by the impersonal power of nature. Brown ends the book with an epilogue, taking the reader back to before the beginning, with a harrowing scene of Inquisitorial torture. Why, after an uplifting ending, would the author compel us to face the past again? Only to remind us, as she must, that history is circular, and a journey begins and ends again and again. Even in these unprecedented safe times, the wheel is turning. This book was over 10 years in the making. The author has clearly done her homework, but avoids cramming facts and data into her story. History develops naturally, as an integral part of the plot, without feeling forced. Returning crypto-Jews come back for many reasons. Rosa, Flores' mother, says it best: "I began this journey to honor my mother, and her mother before her. Now I do it for myself. I am full of pride for our people. Who else could last all these thousands of years, never to be extinguished, even after all we've been through?" Claudia H. Long is the author of Josefina's Sin, The Duel for Consuelo, The Harlot's Pen, and, coming in 2016, Marcela Unchained. KIRKUS REVIEW In the midst of a family crisis, a young mother must come to grips with her past when she discovers her surprising heritage.In this unusual novel, Brown (Come and Get It! The Sage of Western Dinnerware, 2010, etc.) tells the story of Rachel Martinez Ortega, a wife and mother in the small New Mexican community of Estrella. Between running her own diner,watching over her two sons, and caring for her father-in-law, Héctor, Rachel has her hands full—and her husband, Gerry,is no help at all. Everything comes to a head when the Ortega family is ordered to move out of their longtime familyhome to make room for a new highway. But Ángel, the rebellious older son, is determined not to move and runs away from home instead. He’s accompanied by his younger brother, Juan, desperate not to be left behind. In the midst of this chaos, Rachel discovers some hidden family heirlooms, a set of candlesticks and a Hebrew Bible that dates back to the mid-16th century. After conferring with Father Domingo Nunez and handsome policeman Jose Flores, Rachel is shocked to realize that these treasures mean that her family is Jewish—specifically, conversos, or Jews of Spanish origin who hid their heritage while avoiding persecution. Now, with her children missing, her marriage foundering, and her entire family history coming into question, Rachel must trust in her newfound faith to help her overcome her difficulties.Brown weaves a vivid, accessible story here that jumps between the present and the past to illuminate the tale of Rachel’s Jewish ancestors. The characters are fully drawn and engaging as they grapple with both abstract questions of faith and urgent matters of life and death. Some passages lack subtlety and the narrative offers a few flashbacks that are a bit confusing when introducing new characters. But on the whole, this novel is a well-told account that sheds light on a community and a story that is all too rarely told.An intriguing, heartwarming tale of family and faith. CLARION REVIEW HISTORICAL Hidden Star Corinne Joy Brown FriesenPress (Feb 26, 2016) Softcover $18.99 (288pp) 978-1-4602-7578-8 Multiple narratives spin together with appealing elements of a spiritual journey and a historical quest. Corinne Joy Brown’s Hidden Star is a fascinating Southwestern historical novel that ties a small community to the Spanish Inquisition in revelatory ways, incorporating anecdotes from the modern era and from the troubled times of the Inquisition itself. Rachel Ortega, wife, mother, and diner owner, is descendant of conversos (crypto-Jews) in a small Southwestern town. Hidden Star follows her evolution—from a harried woman with an abusive husband and a troubled teenager, to a more spiritual soul who comes to recognize “an inheritance, a heritage, and a relationship toGod, a covenant.” Meanwhile, her sons Ángel and Juan run away from home. These narratives spin together as journeys of discovery and reconnection in which the spiritual is tied to the familial. Rachel is a well-developed character, one whose evolution flows naturally through the story. Her love for her troubled teen becomes clear on these pages, as does her growing intimacy with José Flores, the local law enforcement officer. He too is drawn empathetically, with elements of backstory revealed naturally within the course of the novel. It is through these two characters that a link to the Inquisition becomes clear. Secondary characters, including a Navajo man, a priest, and Rachel’s father-in-law, join the narrative and become useful catalysts to bring the story to its natural conclusion. The novel meets its goal of defining crypto-Jewish history and heritage, especially with the incorporation of source references. These historical explanations possess the clarity that the esoteric subject demands. The stories give more with careful reading, for the subject is unusual, even obscure, and the pacing is slow. Hidden Star is not an action-driven novel, although there are elements of tension related to the escapades of Rachel’s two sons. There is drama, too, in the thoroughly believable look back at the dramatic events at a 1790 wedding, an anecdote that opens and grounds the novel. Slower, deliberate pacing helps the novel to become a spiritual exploration as much as it is a mystery linked to the boys’ disappearance. Such movements also mean that the book requires methodical reading, and opens best to those who already share an interest in its subjects. The prose is solidly grounded in its New Mexico setting: open skies, purple-topped mountains on the distant horizon, and deeply rooted Latino culture founded in familial loyalty all frame the setting of the novel. Corinne Joy Brown’s Hidden Star will be best appreciated by readers who enjoy discovering long-hidden secrets revealed within historical fiction. GARY PRESLEY
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