Friday, August 5, 2011

Literary Friday: Incantation

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This week I read Incantation by Alice Hoffman.  This book won many, many awards including an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.  You might be familiar with some of Hoffman's other young adult novels including Aquamarine.  She has also written many books for adults as well, like Practical Magic, Here on Earth, and The Third Angel.  I have read all of these books, and I enjoyed them.  I was actually previewing Incantation for my daughter because I think she can squeeze in one more summer reading book.  She will be studying world history this year in school, and Incantation is a historical fiction about the Spanish Inquisition.

The main character in the book is Estrella de Madrigal, and she is around sixteen years old.  She has raven black hair and dark eyes.  Her best friend, Catalina, has similar looks, and because of their hair folks call them similar pet names: Estrella is called Raven, and Catalina is called Crow.  The girls are inseparable, until one day Catalina notices that Estrella and Andres, Catalina's cousin, have become close: a little too close, and Catalina is resentful.  She believes that Andres will marry her one day, and she wants Estrella to leave Andres alone. But this isn't all that Catalina has noticed: Estrella does not cross herself after prayer like Catalina and other Christians.

The girls live in a lovely village in Aragon, but unfortunately they are living in a very paranoid and dangerous time.  A monster raises its ugly head as the burnings begin.  Books are burned, neighbors are allowed to steal from the Jewish families they expose to the authorities, and people's bones are broken and bodies are burned in the village square.  No one is safe, and even your best friend might betray you for personal gain.  In the midst of the chaos, Estrella discovers that she and her family have indeed been living a double life, and are really Marranos: people who attend church and pretend to be Christian, but who are secretly Jews.

Like most of Alice Hoffman's magical realism books, this one, too, has elements of magic or mysticism as each chapter's title is named for the ten gates in Kabbalah that lead to knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.  Estrella's dreams are of these gates as well.  It might be difficult for a younger teen to grasp some of this symbolism in the book with a parent or teacher's help.  I think Hoffman does an excellent job in writing about the persecution Jews suffered during the inquisition.  I loved the way she captured the mood and necessary secretiveness of the Jews as they passed down knowledge and practiced their religion with their families. My favorite scenes in the book are the lessons Estrella's mother teaches her about who she really is. Incantation is a very quick read, and  I enjoyed the story, history, and magical elements that  make it a Hoffman classic.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill




7 comments:

  1. I love novels where lots of history is woven in. Sounds like a good read for sure.

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  2. Sounds so good. So far this year I have not had any time for reading. I must put this on my winter book list...I better have time by then...

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  3. This is a favorite with many of my students!

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  4. I've read all of her books too. She is quite different in her writing. Practical Magic was a fantastic movie too!!

    Pamela xo

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  5. I do most of my reading in the winter...I'll bookmark this so I will remember.
    Thanks for the review...
    xo bj

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  6. OH This book got my attention. I will save the title and as soon as I can get to B&N will check it out! Thanks..I always like it when someone reads the books first, and then gives it a thumbs up!

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  7. I met her. She's quite a fascinating woman (is that a polite way to say eccentric in a good way?). She has some interesting curiosities and writes about topics I'd never think of, but she does it well.

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