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The Merchant from Sepharad
Embroiled in the tumult of the twelfth century’s commercial revolution, Joshua ben Elazar, the scion of an illustrious trading dynasty, is torn between the dictates of his faith and his quest for wealth and love. The merchant from Sepharad, the third book in the series beginning with The Sugar Merchant, is a tale of religious persecution and deadly conflict. Joshua’s first commercial venture in Muslim-ruled Portugal ends in disaster when he is cheated by corrupt officials. Failing as a merchant, he journeys to Cordoba where he establishes a new life as a Talmudic scholar. As an accomplice to the murder of a spy, however, he is forced to flee for his life. Joshua is granted one last opportunity for redemption. He must establish a new trade route to the vast riches of India. Joshua’s world is changing quickly and he must do everything in his power to succeed amidst the chaos. On his journey, he faces new challenges and discovers his true faith.
The third in Hutson-Wiley’s Sugar Merchant series of richly textured stories of commerce in Europe and the Middle East amid the religious conflicts of the High Middle Ages, The Merchant from Sepharad tells the tale of Joshua ben Elazar, the son of a Jewish merchant, as he strives to create a life for himself, impress his father, and honor his faith and his love in the face of oppression. Joshua’s forays into business find him traveling to the Iberian Peninsula, then known as al-Andalus, and to the great city we now know as Lisbon, then ruled by the Al-Murabit Emirate of Qurtuba. There Joshua’s quickly cheated out of his money, but he finds protection with Rabbi Al-Daudi, who offers welcome instruction—“Our strength and survival depend upon our unity.”

Hutson-Wiley’s storytelling continues to the surprise, and the novel, like its protagonist, takes unexpected paths. After an impulsive act of revenge, Joshua must flee the city, and the rabbi sends him as a messenger to Portugal’s King Alfonso, telling him that the time to seize Lisbon is now. At the school run by Maimon Ben Joseph at Qurtuba, Joshua falls in love with Hannah, but marriage is forbidden as she belongs to the Karaite group of Jews. And, intent upon proving his skills as a merchant, takes on his most dangerous mission yet: establishing a new trade route to India.

Hutson-Wiley’s prose is straightforward and unadorned, often touched with a fable-like quality, especially as the novel reveals culture, characters, and the textures of life. Not all lives, though–apart from Hannah, and Sophia, William’s love interest, the tale is devoid of women. When the protagonist returns to his father’s house, will he not meet his mother? Still, Joshua’s journeys are compelling, and his inner conflicts—his philosophical confusions, his anger at discrimination he experiences, his innate good heartedness—make for immersive reading.

Takeaway: Absorbing tale of a Jewish merchant’s travels and dangers in the twelfth century.

Comparable Titles: Richard Zimler’s The Incandescent Threads, José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A