DiscoverHistorical Fiction

The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Lives

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Interesting background on Tudor England and surrounding countries seen through the dispersion of Jews



 Histories about Europe in the Middle Ages/Renaissance often make a two-fold error. I have seen it also in British Literature textbooks. The false assumption is made that everyone was Roman Catholic. Such a blanket statement ignores the vast number of Orthodox believers and the Jewish minorities. And from the late 14th century on, it also ignores the presence of Muslims, usually Turks.

  This book goes a long way towards setting the record straight as far as the Jews are concerned. Specifically, the book follows a renowned scholar whose family converted to Christianity in Catholic Spain in order not to be expelled. It should come as no surprise that in many if not most cases, the conversions were not sincere and that many practiced Judaism as best they could in secret. The Inquisition reached into the Spanish Netherlands as well as remaining very active in Spain itself. Other nations were not tolerant, and persecution existed as well in varying degrees.

  Juan Luis Vives was an historical figure, and a respected scholar. Originally from Valencia, he leaves his family to study in Paris and then to teach in Flanders. He is drawn to England, where he briefly teaches at Oxford. He is an intimate in the household of Sir Thomas More, who incidentally comes across as something less than the figure one is accustomed to see. Soon Vives finds himself caught between conflicting sides in the tensions between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The scholar walks a fine line; he is approached by both sides. It is hard for him to differentiate between friend and foe. Compounding the entire situation is his desire to bring his parents and siblings from Spain and to protect his wife in Bruges.

   The story is told in the form of his coded diary, which he hides and if only found recently. As a literary device it works well enough, but there are times when third-person narration could have helped to clarify things and to move the action along.

    There are parts in Spanish, but translations are offered. I am functional in that language, and have to point out that perro, not pero, is dog. The latter Spanish word is but, however.

    A minor point. In a time when anti-Semitism is sadly on the rise, books like these are important and are needed.

Reviewed by

I am a published poet with four books out there of my own, and two in collaboration with artist Carol Worthington-Levy. My first novel, "The Botleys of Beaumont County" is available on Blurb & launched here on October 20! Literary fiction piece set in the Southeastern USA around 2008.

The Eyes and Ears of the King of Spain

About the author

Tim Darcy Ellis (BA BSc, MHSc) is a writer, physiotherapy business owner and formerly a professional archaeologist. Tim worked with both the Museum of London and the British Museum in the 1990s. In 2000 he changed careers but has maintained a love of history and historical fiction. view profile

Published on August 31, 2020

Published by Tellwell publishing

80000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

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