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The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
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The Last Song

by Eva Wiseman

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Last Song by Eva Wiseman is a story of intrigue and escape during the early days of the Spanish Inquisition.

Isabel attends Mass regularly and finds great consolation in prayer, so it comes as a shock when she discovers that her family is of Jewish heritage, and her parents secretly practice the old faith. In Toledo, Spain in 1491, secrets like that can have disastrous consequences. In spite of the danger, Isabel feels an irresistible curiosity about her heritage. She secretly befriends Yonah, the son of a Jewish silversmith, who takes her to places where she can learn covertly about her parents' faith. Isabel and Yonah's friendship might even become something more -- but Isaebel is betrothed to Luis, a cruel and loutish boy, but the son of an Old Christian family. Isabel's parents hope that this connection will keep Isabel safe in Spain's volatile political atmosphere, but Isabel feels that the price may be too high. Can she find another way to escape persecution, one that doesn't involve marrying Luis?

The real strength of this novel is the setting. Wiseman obviously did her research, and Isabel's world is described in vivid detail. Unfortunately, the characters, dialogue, and plot are less powerful. I found Isabel annoying, Too Stupid To Live at times -- she makes impulsive decisions that put her life, her friends' lives, and her family's lives in danger on a whim. None of the secondary characters were particularly nuanced or rounded, and the dialogue often seemed a bit stilted. It's not that this is a bad book -- it's just not a great one. Readers with a particular interest in Jewish history, the Spanish Inquisition, or historical fiction in general may want to take a look, but others will probably be okay to skip this one. ( )
  foggidawn | Dec 9, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What a good book for the young reader!

Isabel is a 15 year old young woman from a prominent family in Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. She lives a life of privilege, wealth, devotion and security - until she learns a terrible secret. Her family are Christian to the world but actually practice their Jewish faith in secret.

The book assumes the reader has some knowledge of the the history of the Spanish Inquisition but even a reader with no historical knowledge would easily pick up on the sense of danger to be Jewish at that time.

Could there be more historical content? Could the characters be given a bit more depth? Yes to both those questions. I believe that the inquisitive reader would find the story interesting enough to look up more information on her/his own. I would not hesitate to recommend this book. ( )
  EvelynBernard | Dec 2, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Eva Weiseman's The Last Song gives young readers an interesting introduction to the Spanish Inquisition. Fourteen-year-old Isabel learns her family's terrible secret: that they have a Jewish background and her parents privately practice Jewish customs despite the front that they are devout Christians. This puts her family at incredible danger because of the Inquisition. They even arrange for Isabel to be betrothed to the son of an "old Christian" family in order to convince others of their loyalty to the Church. Isabel finds herself in several dangerous situations and faces quite a lot of internal conflict as she confronts her new heritage.

While others have criticized the lack of depth to the characters and possibly the plot, I found the book to be rather interesting. I had little knowledge about the Spanish Inquisition and it really opened my own eyes. I think for young readers, it would be an excellent introduction and background to the Inquisition and does what historical narratives should do: encourage you to find out more information about the history background. I think it also encourages children to think about their actions and how they affect others. ( )
  julieaduncan | Nov 29, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A very short and sweet book that gets to the heart of the matter of the Spanish Inquisition. I'm not aware of very many books that cover this period of time for younger audiences, so this book is a nice addition. I just wish it had gone a little bit more in depth about the characters and culture of the time. ( )
  bpompon | Nov 27, 2014 |
Last week I wrote about Voyage of Strangers, a YA novel set during the era of the Spanish Inquisition and of Columbus’ voyages to the “new” world. While written for a slightly younger audience (Random House recommends it for ages 10 and up), The Last Song also balances an engaging narrative with a frank depiction of the wrongs committed by the Inquisition.

Eva Wiseman’s The Last Song is told in the voice of fourteen year old Doña Isabel de Cardosa, daughter of the physician to their majesties, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. Isabel has not realized that her parents are conversos—both from families that outwardly accepted Christianity several generations ago, but that continue to live privately with Jews. As violence against Jews increases, Isabel’s parents betroth her to the son of a powerful Spaniard with a long Christian lineage, hoping this will provide protection for her within the volatile political and religious climate.

At the same time that Isabel is betrothed she finds out that she is a Jew and also befriends a young Jewish man who serves as a foil to her less-than-charming fiance. Then Isabella and Ferdinand order the expulsion of the Jews and Isabel begins learning painful lessons about the extent of friends’ and servants’ loyalties in this climate of fear.

Isabel is brave and resourceful individual who takes action to keep her family safe, both before and after her father is arrested by the Inquisition. Perhaps some of Isabel’s luck and planning pushes the limits of probability, but Wiseman makes sure her readers understand how exceptional Isabel’s case is. Wiseman offers other portraits of Jews, Moors, and slaves that convey the prejudice and violence of the time.

This book provides valuable context for Columbus’ voyages. While he is mentioned only in passing, readers see both the world he comes from and the impact of this age of conquest on Europe’s minority populations.

As a teenager interested in questions of justice—both present day and historical—I would have valued reading this book and spending time on the thinking it inspires. I expect this will be true for many young readers who are lucky enough to come across The Last Song. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Nov 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0887769799, Hardcover)

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.
 
Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:36 -0400)

When the tolerant culture of Spain is shattered by the Inquisition, Isabel feels safe because of her Catholic upbringing and father's position as a respected doctor, until he is arrested for the family's secret Jewish heritage.

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