Incantation by Alice Hoffman
Purchase from Amazon or Powell's
Synopsis from publisher:
Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family's true identity--and her family's secrets are made public--she confronts a world she's never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.
Infused with the rich context of history and faith, in her most profoundly moving work to date, Alice Hoffman's first historical novel is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance.
First of all, this book is GORGEOUS! The beautiful picture on the book jacket is repeated on the actual book cover, and it is stunning in real life. People who are into book covers - check this one out!
Thankfully, the actual novel is also beautiful. Hoffman captures all the innocence, and frustration, and jealousy, and fear of growing up, in the pitch-perfect voice of Estrella. She gives the reader all the wonder of first love, and the angst of fighting with your best friend, against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. It's a short novel, but I literally could not put it down, and read the whole thing in one evening.
Hoffman usually has a little touch of magic in her novels, and in Incantation, she supplies it with the mysteries of Kabbalah, and while nothing overtly magical takes place, there is just that hint of the possibility in Estrella's life that adds spark to the novel. It's certainly not a cheery book, but Estrella's determination to persevere keeps it from being depressing, and allows for the possibility of a hopeful ending. I thought it was wonderful, and definitely recommend it.
Source: my shelves, although by now it should have a new owner!