The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

by Naomi Ragen

Book, 1998



Call number




New York : Simon & Schuster, c1998.


The ghost of a real-life historical figure helps elderly Catherine da Costa convince her granddaughters to travel across Europe with her and helps them find a link between past and present by leaving mysterious journal entries along their travel route.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Gwyen
I enjoyed this book so much that I am on the look out for other books by the same author offered at the library.
LibraryThing member LesaHolstine
Catherine da Costa, a wealthy Jewish widow is afraid her famly has lost their religion & their history. Before she dies, she sends her granddaughters to Europe to search for their Sephardic Jewish history, particularly the life of Hannah Mendes.
LibraryThing member sakismom
Lots of interesting, and disturbing, information on the Spanish Inquisition. Pretty good story line about contemporary Sephardic-New York family, the younger onew with no Yiddishkeit or curiousity about their forebearers. The two granddaughters are quite annoying and shallow and portrayed somewhat
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LibraryThing member jayde1599
Catherine da Costa is a wealthy matron, who comes to realize her family tree will be broken with her two granddaughters, who have no interest in the family heritage. Catherine sets out to teach her granddaughters of their past as the ghost of Hannah Mendes keeps her going. Intertwined with
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Catherine's story is that of Hannah - a wealthy Jewish woman during the Inquisition, who took over her husband's pepper trade when he died.

I really liked how this book started out. Having the dual time lines and interacting stories was interesting. The story flowed well until the dinner in London and then the book just crashed for me. Catherine was a great character, as was Gracia Mendes. I did not like Catherine's granddaughters Suzanne and Francesca. I felt like they were whiny and not strong characters. I felt like their parts of the story dragged on and that they did not do anything to aid the plot. I felt like there could have been more action surrounding the search for the manuscript. The girls would start to look and then get caught up in romance and then poof - a piece of manuscript was found elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member jessieep
This is a great novel: the past and the present intertwine seamlessly.
LibraryThing member KCalen
This is a wonderful ghost story of sorts. I love that the dying grandmother, the matriarch of the family, enlists the help of the most famous of the families ancestors (the ghost of Hannah Mendes) to help get her grandaughters' lives back on track. The grandmother sends them on a mission to seek
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out the other parts of the manuscript that Hanna left hidden. The story bounces back and forth in time every time they find a piece of Hanna's story. Her story gives us a glimpse into the period when the Jewish people were expeled from spain or forced to convert by the Inquisition.

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LibraryThing member justine
Very good book weaving history.
LibraryThing member drbubbles
Tries to braid narratives about family, history, and religion into a unified story, but doesn't succeed.
LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
I admit I picked this book off the shelf because of the beautiful cover. Also, it had a ghost. And memoir 500 years old, that there is a search for. What’s not to love?

Catherine has been told she only has a short time to live. She is sad that her two granddaughters don’t follow the families
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Sephardic tradition, and, worse, are still single and childless. The ghost of Hannah Mendes visits her, encouraging Catherine to have her granddaughters visit Europe and find her long lost memoir. Suzanne and Francesca are opposites and not apt to work well with each other; Francesca is a workaholic who values only money, while Suzanne has given her life over to good causes. But they agree to take on the task. Once on the way, they encounter flawless men, supernatural events, and, yes, some of the memoir.

A search for literary treasure should have been right up my alley. But detective work is not the point here. This book reads like a sermon- a racy one at points, but a sermon combined with a history lesson none the less. The moral of the entire story is to value family and religious tradition above all else, never marry outside the religion, and that women need to have children to carry the traditions on. I could have – maybe – tolerated this paean to motherhood above career if the book had been better. But it’s not. The characters never come to life. I actually kind of disliked both the granddaughters; they were caricatures. Catherine has more life than them, but is absent for most of the story. The men are too perfect to be real. In fact, the entire adventure is too perfect.

Hannah’s memoir is interspersed with the present day adventure, and it’s more interesting. Born in the Renaissance in a family of conversos, Jews who have converted to Catholicism. They haven’t, really; they continue to celebrate their traditions in private. This put them in terrible danger at this point of history, with the Inquisition going hard. At first Hannah seems to live an enchanted life, but it’s only a few years before things go bad. She rallies, however, and becomes a great heroine. She is a real, historical personage and I did enjoy learning about her, but even her part is told rather flatly.

Sadly disappointing.
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LibraryThing member BettyTaylor56
Loved this book. I visited her museum on one of my trips to Tiberias.
LibraryThing member lilibrarian
Sisters Francesca and Suzanne head off to Europe to research and find a manuscript written by an ancestor who lived through the Inquisition. Their steps seem led in a mystical way, and they find more than the manuscript.
LibraryThing member jessibud2
I was a bit disappointed, overall. I truly loved the historic sections, the old manuscripts that revealed Hannah's back story. Those were rich and lovingly written. It was the present-day chapters that annoyed me. I truly never liked either of the 2 granddaughters, felt they were completely
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one-dimensional. The story line also felt incredibly *chick-lit* to me, at times, even laughably predictable and unbelievable. If I hadn't committed myself to reading it through, I certainly would have just skipped over those chapters. Pity, as there was potential for a very good story that I felt never came through

It wasn't until after I finished the book and read the author's acknowledgments, that it dawned on me that Hannah (Gracia) Mendes was an actual historic figure who really lived. I googled to read more and found this part to be truly fascinating. I am happy that there has been a resurgence of sorts for her, that she won't, in fact, disappear into oblivion. She was an important figure who lived quite a life during horrific times, and left quite a legacy and she certainly deserves to be honoured and remembered.
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Original publication date



068483393X / 9780684833934

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