Before the Corona Virus COVID-19 Lockdown our Pageturners Book Discussion Group were to chat about The Convert by Stefan Hertmans and translated by David McKay. If you have read this book please let us know your thoughts by adding your comments to this post or email Jasmine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Set at the time of the Crusades and based on historical events, The Convert is the story of a strong-willed young woman who sacrifices everything in the name of love.
When Stefan Hertmans learns that Monieux, the small Provençal village in which he lives, was the scene of a pogrom a thousand years ago and that a treasure may be hidden there, he goes in search of clues. The first is a letter, written in Hebrew nearly a thousand years ago, originally discovered among a startling collection of Jewish documents in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo in the late nineteenth century.
This letter sets Hertmans off on the trail of a young woman who fled her powerful Christian family to marry the love of her life, the son of the chief rabbi of France, for whom she renounced her own faith. Originally known as Vigdis, the young woman changed her name to Hamoutal upon converting to Judaism. Her father offered a large sum to anyone who could bring her back, but the lovers managed to escape to Monieux. They were not safe for long, though: Monieux bore witness to a bloody pogrom, after which Hamoutal found herself alone and once again having to flee.
Hertmans retraces Hamoutal’s footsteps—first through the French cities of Rouen, Narbonne and Marseille, as she makes her way south, fleeing her family, and then on to Sicily and ultimately to Cairo, where she sought asylum. It is a dizzying, often terrifying journey, full of hardships, that unfolds against the backdrop of the death and destruction of the Crusades.
The Convert is both an epic love story and a harrowing portrait of the havoc wrought by holy war. It is a tale of flight, and fear, a story that seeks to answer a pivotal question: What does it mean to change your identity?
New York Times Book Review: