The Last Jew

by Noah Gordon

Book, 2000



Call number




New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.


In the year 1492, the Inquisition has all of Spain in its grip. After centuries of pogrom-like riots encouraged by the Church, the Jews - who have been an important part of Spanish life since the days of the Romans - are expelled from the country by royal edict. Many who wish to remain are intimidated by Church and Crown and become Catholics, but several hundred thousand choose to retain their religion and depart; given little time to flee, some perish even before they can escape from Spain. Yonah Toledano, the 15-year-old son of a celebrated Spanish silversmith, has seen his father and brother die during these terrible days - victims whose murders go almost unnoticed in a time of mass upheaval. Trapped in Spain by circumstances, he is determined to honor the memory of his family by remaining a Jew. On a donkey named Moise, Yonah begins a meandering journey, a young fugitive zigzagging across the vastness of Spain. Toiling at manual labor, he desperately tries to cling to his memories of a vanished culture. As a lonely shepherd on a mountaintop he hurls snatches of almost forgotten Hebrew at the stars, as an apprentice armorer he learns to fight like a Christian knight. Finally, as a man living in a time and land where danger from the Inquisition is everywhere, he deals with the questions that mark his past. How he discovers the answers, how he finds his way to a singular and strong Marrano woman, how he achieves a life with the outer persona of a respected Old Christian physician and the inner life of a secret Jew, is the fabric of this novel. The Last Jew is a glimpse of the past, an authentic tale of high adventure, and a tender and unforgettable love story. In it, Noah Gordon utilizes his greatest strengths, and the result is remarkable and moving.… (more)

Media reviews

Mit seinem neuen Roman hat Noah Gordon wieder zu jener Balance zurückgefunden, die schon seinen weltberühmten ersten „Medicus“ auszeichnete. Seine farbigen Zeitbilder vergangener Historie umgeben ein in „gut“ und „böse“ zweigeteiltes Personentableau, ohne dabei in platte
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Schwarzweißmalerei zu verfallen. Was in dem zweiten Teil der Medicus-Trilogie „Die Erben des Meidcus“ doch schon sehr plakativ daherkam, findet in der zwanzig Jahre währenden Entwicklungsgeschichte des „Medicus von Saragossa“ eine differenziertere Betrachtung. Selbst der positiv besetzte Held erweist sich hier als anfechtbar, wird beinahe zum Dieb und tötet mehrere Menschen. Im Original überschrieben mit „The Last Jew“ geht es hier auch weniger um das Arztsein des Helden als um das Credo, daß die Angehörigen der drei Schriftreligionen in ihrem Glauben an Gott doch eigentlich weit mehr verbinden als trennen sollte. Gordon gelingt es, dieser höchst aktuellen Thematik einmal mehr eine ,Magie‘ abzugewinnen, die ohne jede Länge bis zur letzten Seite Wirkung zeigt.
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La trama de esta novela toma como punto de partida la expulsión de los judíos en la España del siglo XV y como protagonista al joven Yonah Toledano. Cuando Yonah es separado de los únicos miembros de su familia que quedan con vida, se ve forzado a abandonar su hogar natal en búsqueda de un
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nuevo lugar en el que poder establecerse sin tener que renunciar a sus creencias. Así, inicia un largo periodo durante el cual deberá recurrir a su ingenio para poder salvaguardar su secreto. Los cambios continuos de identidad y oficio irán forjando su personalidad, y las dificultades no harán sino reafirmar sus orígenes. Desde sus días de pobreza y soledad hasta sus últimos años como reputado médico, seguimos la vida de un personaje extraordinario y de un no menos interesante periodo histórico, en el que las traiciones e intrigas estaban a la orden del día.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member maryreinert
Although I know very little about the Inquisition and do not have a strong historical background, I found this book interesting and thought-provoking. This is basically a survival story. Yonah learns to survive physically, mentally, and spiritually against huge odds. At times, I felt he was a bit
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"over the top" with his ability to adapt so easily and become a master metalsmith and then a physician, but undoubtedly, there are individuals who do succeed in many diverse areas. Yonah was smart and talented. Equally important, his family background provided him with a sense, not of entitlement, but one of obligation to do his best, taking care of himself and those around him. As interesting as he is as a main character, the individuals around him are also remarkable in that they are so human and are formed and reformed by the circumstances they find themselves in.
Overall, this is a good read. I would highly recommend it to any lover of historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
Gordon's scathing denunciation of prejudice and its effects, couched in a moving narrative. Yonah, a young Jew in 15th century Spain, is forced to flee his home of Toledo after his brother and father, the latter a talented silversmith, are killed in what we'd call a pogrom which followed Ferdinand
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and Isabella's infamous Order of Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Yes, THOSE monarchs! Yonah, through his life, holds on to his religion and stays one step ahead of the horrible Inquisition. He represents himself as a Christian under an assumed name, Ramón. The novel recounts his flight, his years of manual [and menial] labor as farm hand, seaman, and shepherd. He finally apprentices himself to an armorer. Each time, some incident forces him to keep on the move. He finally ends up in Saragossa, and becomes a physician. Can he maintain his integrity and his false identity?

The novel gave me a lot to think about, which might be simplistic--why are men prejudiced in matters of religion? To me it is a matter of one's personal belief--a matter of faith--and should be respected. I got a feeling for the times at which the story took place, through the author's vivid descriptions. The action seemed too fortuitous and on occasion contrived; Yonah would meet just the right person at the right time.

The author's research into the period was thorough--conducted mainly through interviews with and help of people mentioned in the extensive Acknowledgements. The maps of Yonah's journey from Toledo and to Saragossa on the endpapers were invaluable.
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LibraryThing member OccassionalRead
I have been a big fan of historical fiction ever since reading Gary Jenning's Aztec in high school. At its best, historical fiction is educational allowing the reader to experience an alien culture or different place, or a past epoch. In the case of The Last Jew you experience late 15th and early
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16th Century medieval Spain during the Inquisition. The last Jew is Yonah Toledeno who remains true to his religion even after the murder of his brother and father, the expulsion of the remainder of his family and other Jews or their forced conversion. The Last Jew follows Yonah from the beginning of his quixotic (a word derived from that classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote) journey through Spain beginning at age fifteen and follows his life and travels up until his marriage and the birth of his son in his mid thirties. It is a tale of horrible cruelty and oppression in the face of an intolerant society. Would that the world had matured in all these centuries into a place more enlightened. Sadly, it has not. The Last Jew is a worthwhile read for those who wish to remain true to themselves in the face of incredible adversity. It is a great and exciting read.
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LibraryThing member gildaclone
One thing that was striking about this book was the sense of dread, fear and inevitability you felt about the main character, always waiting for him to be exposed as a Jew and rooting for him not to be turned in to the Inquisition. This book was set in the time frame when the convivencia era of
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Spain was turning to one of intolerance and expulsion of all Jews. This is a period o, and have visited some of the places mentioned, so I really enjoyed it.
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Original publication date



0312265042 / 9780312265045
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