In this dazzling work of historical fiction, the Man Booker International–long-listed author of War and Turpentine reconstructs the tragic story of a medieval noblewoman who leaves her home and family for the love of a Jewish boy.
In eleventh-century France, Vigdis Adelaïs, a young woman from a prosperous Christian family, falls in love with David Todros, a rabbi’s son and yeshiva student. To be together, the couple must flee their city, and Vigdis must renounce her life of privilege and comfort. Pursued by her father’s knights and in constant danger of betrayal, the lovers embark on a dangerous journey to the south of France, only to find their brief happiness destroyed by the vicious wave of anti-Semitism sweeping through Europe with the onset of the First Crusade.
What begins as a story of forbidden love evolves into a globe-trotting trek spanning continents, as Vigdis undertakes an epic journey to Cairo and back, enduring the unimaginable in hopes of finding her lost children.
Based on two fragments from the Cairo Genizah—a repository of more than three hundred thousand manuscripts and documents stored in the upper chamber of a synagogue in Old Cairo—Stefan Hertmans has pieced together a remarkable work of imagination, re-creating the tragic story of two star-crossed lovers whose steps he retraces almost a millennium later. Blending fact and fiction, and with immense imagination and stylistic ingenuity, Hertmans painstakingly depicts Vigdis’s terrible trials, bringing the Middle Ages to life and illuminating a chaotic world of love and hate.
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The Convert, briskly translated from the Dutch by David McKay, is an imaginative flight, full of darkness and light, lively characters, life-altering conflicts, violence and kindness, birth, death and, oddly, a lot of snakes. It is, as it says right there on the cover, nothing less than a novel. And it’s a really good one.
Valerie Martin, The New York Times