Incantation by Alice Hoffman – Book Review

I love love love Alice Hoffman. Her adult books are really good, so when I realized that she wrote for young adults also, I just had to read Incantation. I actually listened to it on CD and the reader did an absolutely wonderful job. It was a joy to listen to, and of course the story was just what I expect from Hoffman.

The story involves a love triangle, the Inquisition, and the plight of Spanish Jews during the 1500’s. Estrella has been raised to believe that she is a Christian, but discovers that she is really a Jew whose family practices Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Judaism. When she finds out that she is indeed Jewish, the world becomes a frightening place. The Inquisition has arrived in her little town, and has begun its reign of terror by burning books. Shortly after that the family living next door to Estrella is arrested, the parents burned and the children given away to “good” Christian families to be raised appropriately.


It the same time that all this is happening, Estrella realizes that she is in love with her best friends’ cousin Andres. This presents a problem since her friend Catalina has been promised to be his wife as a condition when her family allowed him to come and live with the family when he was orphaned at a young age. This creates the love triangle; but also the impetus which causes Catalina to betray Estrella and her entire family.

I found this novel’s storyline to be both consuming and also touching on historical events that have been whitewashed by much of history (and certainly the Catholic Church). It points to the fact that we cannot just push historical fact, especially one that lasted roughly from the years 1213 to the late 18th century under the carpet.

Hoffman deals with the historical facts while presenting them with a compelling storyline that has you hoping that Estrella and her family will win out in the end. While not everyone is saved, the survivors make you hope that all will end well. I highly recommend this book, regardless of your age.


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