Tracing the path of the Sephardic Jews to the Balkans – following their expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition – Schwartz draws on place names, historical chronicles, epitaphs, folk ballads, banned books, and the media. He examines both the travails and remarkable cultural achievements of these communities which, hundreds of years after the trauma of forced exile, were almost entirely destroyed in the Holocaust.
The richness of the literature, poetry, mythology and craftsmanship that emerged from the Balkan Jewish milieu is explored, as well as the intermingling of Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities in the region. Highlights include commentaries on Sabbatai Zvi, who declared himself the Messiah in the seventeenth century and who reputedly chose conversion to Islam, and the ‘Renaissance Jewish Traveller’ Abraham Kohen Herrera, a convert under duress during the Inquisition, who later discovered his Jewish heritage through mysticism, and who may have been the model for Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
This is not only an historical analysis but also a personal journey. The author’s poignant descriptions of attempted pilgrimages to Jewish cemeteries and synagogues throughout the Balkans are testament to his yearning for historical pride and validation of identity.
About the Author
Stephen Schwartz is the author of Sarajevo Rose: A Balkan Jewish Notebook (Saqi Books), the bestselling Two Faces of Islam, Kosovo: Background to a War, and several books on Spanish, Albanian, and Californian history. He lives in Washington, D.C.
‘This is a very special book. Stephen Schwartz leads us through the most intricate threads of Balkan civilization with clarity, passion, and poetry … a story so compelling it turns the pages on its own.’
Michael Sells, author of The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia
‘Contains extraordinary and fascinating stories of Bosnia’s Jews. A fine achievement.’
‘A tribute to a remarkable, courageous, creative community ... A creative gift worthy of its subject.’
The New York Post