“Book Review: Zahara and the Lost Books of Light”
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
Magical realism weaves through this adventurous historical thriller
When the Spanish government opens citizenship applications for Sephardic Jews as reparations for historic wrongs, it opens doors for journalist Alienor Crespo. She’ll be able to cover the topic from her unique perspective and find her way to a fascinating story.
But also, it’s a chance to visit Spain, to discover a branch of her family she never got to meet.
When expectations for her trip run high, her clairvoyant episodes begin to shake loose the truths of her past. And that notary she’s supposed to meet is shot. This is enough to keep her worried, but soon, this fear escalates along with the discovery that she may have been the target. Racial tensions are rising in Spain, and Alienor is in danger of finding herself in the middle of a centuries-old feud that hits closer to home than she could have imagined.
Zahara and the Lost Books of Light is a historical thriller painted along the edges with evocative magic realism. The writing is lushly descriptive, evoking the places and times the narrative explores, and it also weaves in mystery, politics, history, religious philosophy, and romance. There’s something to watch on nearly every page.
From a purely historical perspective, Zahara is a fascinating read. It digs into the religious persecutions of Spain through past centuries, and it’s clear that the author, Joyce Yarrow, deeply understands the issues she explores. The sense of fear that lingers over the pages of this novel is tangible through a stifling atmosphere where characters need to hide in order to escape punishment or death.
The fantasy elements of Zahara are also a pleasant surprise. The entire novel leans heavily toward realism, from character interaction to settings, and the fantastical aspects are handled the same way. Alienor’s clairvoyant visits to her ancestors feel authentic and effective. It’s a great way to connect to Alienor’s journey and to the ones who have come before her.
There are times when Zahara snaps my willing suspension of belief, though. On occasion, something happens that veers so wildly away from reality that it doesn’t feel natural to the story, like when a sixty-plus-year-old man is shot and then carries on with his life as though nothing has happened, or when a character changes their entire belief system in a matter of minutes. These things don’t happen often, but they are still there and head-scratching enough to give me pause.
Zahara and the Lost Books of Light is a wonderful genre-bending adventure that feels faithful to the history and politics that it explores. It’s well worth a shot for those looking to dive into fantastical history.
Publisher: Adelaide Books
Genre: Historical fiction / Magical realism
Print Length: 332 pages
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Well written review. It triggers the reader’s interest to get a copy of the book. Congratulations to both the author and the reviewer.
Such a well-written, sharp review. I like how it captures every element of the book so precisely.
Excellent book! A clever thriller set in a brilliantly elaborated historical context. I blindly recommend it.
‘The plot thickens’ is an apt way of describing Joyce Yarrow’s richly written saga of courage, intrigue, and mystery in her book Zahara And The Lost Books Of Light.
The story opens when Alienor Crespo, a Seattle journalist, feels like a screenwriter who’s been asked to play a role in her latest script while she researches a story about the first Sephardic woman from Seattle to apply for Spanish citizenship.
Alienor’s research uncovers news about displaced Jews being allowed an unprecedented right of return to Spain. The story keeps her wondering about her own family heritage and her Sephardic identity, and she convinces herself to use the story as an opportunity. After making amends with her father and her mysterious elderly grandmother, Alienor decides to participate in Spain’s offer. She travels to Spain ostensibly to finish the research assignment while at the same time exploring her family’s roots and applying for a Spanish passport.
But instead of an uneventful flight to Madrid via Paris, Alienor’s journey makes some unexpected stops by way of a mystical gift called Vijitas that takes her back in time to key moments in the lives of her female forebears.
Lies, deceit and double-cross complicate Alienor’s efforts, but the story’s conclusion is a fitting end to our heroine’s exciting adventure.
I’ve read Zahara and can highly recommend it!
Zahara is both carefully-research and creatively imagined—terrific read!
A thrilling read! Zahara is a quest across time, a search for family and metaphysical roots, a tribute to the power of books to preserve history and transmit knowledge across generations.
In Zahara and the Lost Books of Light, author Joyce Yarrow has created a delightful novel combining a mystical kind of time travel with insightful explorations of the religious divisions of our time in America. It was a pleasure to read!
Zahara hooked me right away. I’ve never met anyone like journalist Alienor Crespo, the thriller’s time traveling protagonist. I turned pages fast, trying to keep up with her on her quest for a good story and a reunion with relatives in Spain. I worried about her when she joined some of her ancestors searching for the lost books of the title. These ancient volumes were written by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars once upon a time when folks of those three faiths lived peacefully together. Rescued from the flames of the Inquisition, the books were secretly cached below ground. The fact that Ali connected with a very interesting man made her journey even more exciting. Joyce Yarrow has created a character I’d like to read more about.
A fascinating journey from contemporary Spain back through the generations as experienced in real time by the descendant of Sephardic Jews persecuted during the Inquisition. Alienor Crespo is a modern woman with a mystical gift – the ability to visit the past by entering into the consciousness of her female ancestors. Alienor’s gift becomes the reader’s gift as she brings to life the terrors of the Inquisition and the risks undertaken – both then and now – by those with the courage to try and preserve the cultural treasures of a time when all religious faiths lived in harmony. Highly recommended.
Heartfelt thanks to all who took the time to comment and are so supportive of this book!