Happy February! This month, the Literary Wives are linking up to review The Inquisitor’s Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis. If you’ve read it, let us know what you think! If you’ve reviewed it, link to your review on our Facebook page. And be sure to check out the other bloggers’ reviews:
The Inquisitor’s Wife is the story of Marisol Garcia, the daughter of an “Old Christian” father and a conversa mother, who purportedly converted from Judaism to Christianity. The story is set in 1481, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when all of the Jews who converted to Christianity are now feared to be practicing Judaism in secret. It’s a dangerous political time. Although Queen Isabella has herself married a converso, no one is safe. Anyone accused—rightly or wrongly—of practicing Judaism is given one choice: renounce Judaism and convert, or die.
Growing up, Marisol doesn’t realize that the candles her mother lights on Friday nights are part of shabbat, the Jewish celebration of Passover. When she finds out, she disowns her mother, ashamed that she is putting their family at risk. Magdalena begs Marisol and her father to run away with her, somewhere where Jews are safe. They refuse, so Magdalena commits suicide. Days later, Marisol is married to Gabriel Hojeda, one of the leaders of the Inquisition, in the hopes that it will protect her from the scrutiny of her mother’s death. And this is where our Literary Wives discussion connects with the story.
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Marisol’s marriage is an act of survival—a desperate, last-resort attempt to be safe from the Inquisition. Marisol and Gabriel’s relationship is very peculiar. He was the town bully throughout their childhood, and Marisol tells us that he is stupid, the puppet of his scheming brother. For some vague political reason, Gabriel’s brother insists that they don’t consummate the marriage, an arrangement which apparently suits Marisol just fine, but is obviously difficult for Gabriel.
I had a hard time accepting Marisol’s repugnance for Gabriel. In a very tender moment, he stops her from following her mother into the ocean. He so clearly dotes on her, and although he is one of “the enemy,” he asserts himself against his brother on her behalf a few times. Marisol pouts and whines and defies him, then acts offended when he gets upset with her. From the stories Marisol tells of Gabriel, he is actually a quite pitiable character: his father beat him and he was pressured to treat the conversos harshly. But his reluctance to do so hints that he has a more tender heart that Kalogridis doesn’t ever really explore.
The door is left open for their marriage to become something real and meaningful. Literally, one night, Gabriel leaves open a secret door that connects their chambers. Curious, Marisol walks down the hallway and sees him naked.
Part of me wanted nothing to do with Gabriel, but another part of me longed to be touched by a man, to rut there, on the floor of the airless, musty corridor. For a long instant, Gabriel and I stared wide-eyed at each other, he panting so that the shadows on the cracked stucco jumped up and down with the candle in his hand, and I praying that he would take me then, while hoping just as fervently that he would not.
She walks away, sealing Gabriel’s fate as the unlucky antagonist in the book. There is so much misplaced sexual tension. Marisol spends a lot of time trying to convince the reader to hate Gabriel, but she fails. This is purely a personal opinion, but I would have liked to see Marisol put some effort into their relationship. I think it would have been a very different story, one in which Gabriel might have been persuaded to help Marisol and her family escape the Inquisition.
But that’s not what happens. Instead, Marisol pines after her “true” love, Antonio, who has just returned to the Spanish court. With Marisol suddenly in the same social circles, they are thrown together quite a bit, inciting Gabriel’s jealousy. Although Marisol clearly loves Antonio, the reader lacks the history that they share. I was told to support Antonio. I was told to despise Gabriel, because that’s how Marisol feels. Antonio does all of the “right” things, but he’s really a boring character. Gabriel is the one with all of the complexity and emotion.
Marisol’s father is taken by the Inquisition and tortured while Marisol watches. Gabriel comes to Marisol with a proposition: for one night of “intimacy,” he would try to save her father. She says yes, but tricks Gabriel, and they have the most awkward non-sex I’ve ever read. So, unlike Marisol, I wasn’t surprised that her father was still on trial the next day, and ends up being executed. I’m not even sure that Gabriel didn’t try to save him, since they both seem to feel that they did share a night of “intimacy” (I disagree).
Eventually, Marisol decides to honor her mother’s memory by returning to Judaism herself and helping another prominent family of conversos flee Spain. Conveniently, Antonio (who is an Old Christian) decides to help as well. They are found out, of course, and Gabriel is their torturer. I won’t give away the ending, but I’m sure you can figure out that *somehow* Marisol and Antonio get away.
Marisol’s attitude toward marriage is entirely dependent on her comfort: she pretends to be a faithful wife to Gabriel when it suits her, but in all other ways she betrays him. In spite of the fact that she no doubt dealt with a terrible situation, I had no sympathy for her. She is completely pessimistic about his character, when his actions speak that he might have helped her if she had let him. Obviously, I feel bad that she was forced to marry a man she didn’t love. But, IMHO, that’s no excuse for her childish lack of kindness toward him.
I had a really strong reaction toward this book. What did you think?