The Debt of Tamar

by Nicole Dweck

Book, 2015



Call number




New York, NY Thomas Dunne Books, 2015


"Four hundred years before Oskar Schindler there was Suleiman the Magnificent, an Ottoman sultan who rescued thousands of Jews from the Inquisition. Inspired by this amazing moment in history, Nicole Dweck has imagined an enchanting family saga in the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Nomi Eve's The Family Orchard. In 1544, as Inquisition fires rage in Portugal, young Jose Mendez discovers he's Jewish--and that his parents died for their faith. With the help of the Ottoman sultan, he escapes and makes a new life in Istanbul, where he digs deeper into his Jewish roots. But when his own daughter secretly falls in love with the sultan's Muslim grandson, Jose finds himself in a life-changing dilemma, one that will shape generations to come. In 2002, Selim Osman, the last living descendant of the Ottoman sultanate, flees Istanbul for New York. In a twist of fate he meets Hannah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Unaware the connection they share goes back centuries, Hannah and Selim feel an immediate pull to one another. But when something from Selim's past comes to light, the act that bound two families ages ago ripples into the future, threatening to tear them apart. The Debt of Tamar weaves a spellbinding tapestry of love, history, and fate that will absorb readers from the very first page"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member VanessaCW
An absorbing and interesting historical saga which begins in the 16thC and finishes in the 20thC, although I would say the story does not end there! It follows the loves and lives of the Nissims, a Portuguese Jewish family, as they escape to Turkey to avoid persecution and also members of the
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Ottoman Dynasty. When Tamar, Jose and Reyna Nissim's daughter, falls in love with the Sultan's son, Murat, their happiness is doomed and they are split apart. Thus the 'Sultan's Curse' falls upon the families and has consequences on future generations.

This is a tale of love, family secrets and forgiveness that transcends time. I very much enjoyed it. The writing is quite lyrical and the story is beautifully told. It never gets bogged down with too many details and it's an easy read. The author gets her point across well, too. I liked how the various characters and their tales intertwined. Although the ending is left to the reader's imagination, I thought it finished on a note of hope.

I found it a compelling and captivating debut. I would have no hesitation in recommending The Debt of Tamar to historical fiction fans and would be most interested in reading Nicole Dweck's future books.
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LibraryThing member BooksCooksLooks
The Debt of Tamar is in effect three stories woven together detailing the impacts of an old love unfulfilled and thwarted by the interference of a man too focused on the past to allow for any deviation from what he sees as right in the future.

It begins in the time of the Inquisition in Spain when
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Jews are being burned and the conversos (the Jews who converted to Catholicism) are still held in suspicion. When Doña Antonia decides that she and her family must flee due to pressures from the royal family they ultimately find refuge in the lands of Suleiman the Magnificent where Jews were free to practice their religion. There her adopted son and daughter fall in love and marry and he rises high in the court of the Sultan. Their daughter is educated in the Sultan's harem where she meets his his son Murat. They become friends first and then they fall in love. But he is not Jewish and so her father sends her away. This drives Murat close to madness.

The tale moves to the present where the last of the Ottoman line finds he has cancer and goes to the United States for treatment where he meets a beautiful woman. She does not even know her full history but as she cares for her dying father it is revealed to the reader. It carries through WWII occupied Paris, through the Holocaust to Palestine. As fate would have it these two needed to meet but is it their time?

There are many things I liked about this book, several that I didn't and quite a few that left me confused. It was compelling enough that I read it in one sitting yet when I was finished I was left with a feeling of disappointment rather than a sense of satisfaction. I loved the beginning and the sections that took place in Suleiman's court yet it was not as developed as I would have liked. There were snippets of events that moved the plot forward but they were not fulfilled. People acted in unexplained ways; for example the Sultan's wife was rudely cold to Dona Antonia's daughter yet it was never explained why. I kept waiting for the reason for her attitude to appear and nothing. Little things like that were bothersome and when there are enough of them a reader starts to ask questions and when they are not answered frustration occurs.

I loved the idea of a love that spanned millenia yet there didn't seem to be a connection between Tamar and Murat that would sustain this kind of love. Nor was there any kind of magic when their spirits reconnected in the future - I don't think I'm giving anything away by indicating a reunion. The ending was just odd. I didn't understand it at all and it was deeply dissatisfying. I know I'm sounding very negative at this point - I'm just so torn because as I wrote earlier I found myself not wanting to put it down. Perhaps because I was hoping for much more. It did take some skill for Ms. Dweck to weave the three stories together and it is important to remember the evil that was perpetrated on the Jews throughout history.
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LibraryThing member DarkFaerieTales
Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: Wonderfully written story that explores how badly secrets can destroy until the power of forgiveness heals all.

Opening Sentence: Jose observed his aunt Dona Antonia, an aging aristocrat who’d taken him in as her own.

The Review:

The Debt of Tamar
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is quite a bit different than what I thought it was. I was expecting a love story with a history lesson, what I got was a history lesson in Judaism, tragedy and loss with a bit of a love story thrown in. It also heavily revolves around fate and destiny and how badly secrets can destroy or enlighten. The synopsis confused me after I started reading, I had to double check that I was reading the book it said it was about because we don’t even glimpse Selim until well over 100 pages in. With that being said, I did enjoy this novel wholeheartedly. Expect for some heartache, tragedy and tears. This novel does make you explore the unfairness of life and how badly people are judged by their religion.

This novel starts off in the mid-1500’s with the persecution and killing of millions of Jews in Europe. Dona Antonia Mendez has kept a huge secret from her daughter and nephew. She has been raising them as Catholic but secretly their family is Jewish. After, Jose’s (Dona’s nephew) parents were killed in the Inquisition, she hasn’t told them about their heritage. She was waiting for them both to grow up before telling them they were in fact Jewish. Dona has also been secretly helping Jewish people get out of Europe with the use of her massive funds. One day the queen of Portugal come to Dona with a proposition she cannot turn down. Dona’s daughter Reyna will marry the Prince. Portugal is having money problems and needs Dona’s money. Dona lets out the secret of their family to Jose and Reyna. Dona cannot let Reyna marry the Catholic prince, so she is now running away from Portugal with her daughter and nephew to Turkey. A bit of a love story plays out with Jose and Reyna but it isn’t without its tragedy.

In Turkey, Jose and Reyna find a bit of happiness and stability. Jose learns a lot more about his religion. When Jose and Reyna are put almost in the same precarious situation that they were in when they left Portugal. Jose concocts a plan that could only work in a plague ridden world. He cannot let his daughter marry a Muslim Sultan. A Sultan that lives out the rest of his days heartbroken and sullen.

The Sultan family now has a curse that will follow them until a green eyed beauty can redeem them from the curse that has forced the family to wait for love and enlightenment. Selim is empty inside. He’s just counting his days until he dies. After his tragic past he hopes it is sooner than later. Selim meets Ayda. He wants to love her but he just can’t. He tries to push her away but Ayda fights for what she wants and will not let him go so easy. Selim skips out on Ayda for New York City. While there he meets the green eyed Hannah, where history has come full circle. It is up to Hannah to release Selim’s family curse.

It wasn’t until Selim’s story that I kept tearing up. I am tearing up just writing this review. Life is just so unfair and sad. The full circle of the story is supposed to be uplifting. It is supposed to show how someone’s actions in the past can weigh heavily on future events. How the power of forgiveness and help heal wounds inside and out. The story was all these things but I still feel a bit melancholy about how the events in this story play out. Because not only is Selim’s curse lifted but so is Hannah’s.

Overall, I learned quite a bit about the Jewish faith. The story itself is pure fiction but based on some real life characters. I love learning about history and the story that was written was stuff I have not really ever read about so I’m glad that I made this journey. If you love history and want something a bit different. I recommend giving this one a try.

Notable Scene:

“This Is not the dream of a fool, Murad. It is a window into the future.”

“Tell me what it means. Tell me now and tell me quickly.”

“A tree such as that can mean only one thing.”

“Please go on, good sheikh!”

“A tree such as yours can only mean life.”

“Murad looked on, bewildered. “Life?”

“Yes, dear boy. The girl lives on.”

“But the girl in my dream, she is dead.”

“Murad,” Sheikh Suca continued, “the girl is certainly not dead. The debt of her household follows her to a faraway land.”

“Debt?” Murad’s voice was faint.

Holding his beads in his lap, the sheikh pressed his lids down tightly, accessing a world of secrets and spirits beyond. “Your forefathers rescued her household and all its descendants, those living and those yet to be born,” he said with his eyes still sealed. “For this, a debt lingers in the heavens. A time will come when she returns to see it paid.”

FTC Advisory: Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan provided me with a copy of The Debt of Tamar. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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