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Reviewed by Foluso Falaye for Readers' Favorite
James Hutson-Wiley's Merchant From Sepharad follows Joshua ben Elazar's adventures and his attempt to understand commerce, love, and religion during the Commercial Revolution in the 12th century. Though his people live between Edom and Ishmael, Joshua embarks on various perilous journeys that involve dealing as a merchant in Portugal, becoming a Talmudic scholar in Cordoba, and endeavoring to establish a new trade route to India. Even as he faces swindlers, murderers, and harsh weather conditions, Joshua's infatuation with a Karaite woman presents his most troubling conundrum. Since a union with a Karaite is said to be forbidden, he wonders if the law can forbid association with other members of his faith. Will Joshua follow his heart and risk disobeying his people's laws?
Joshua is a kind, strong character that inspires admiration and respect. Even though his people's customs support slavery, he endeavors to free slaves from their inhumane reality. One of my favorite parts of the story was seeing him and other characters translate religious texts and explore Jewish history. I enjoyed reading about the real story behind the eight-day celebration of Chanukah. Such details of Jewish history create a rich, elaborate experience that reflects James Hutson-Wiley's thorough research. It keeps you engaged by revealing diverse events through the protagonist's perspective reasonably quickly. Hutson-Wiley weaves several intriguing themes, such as romance, pirates, sea voyages, desert storms, religious politics, betrayal, forbidden love, action, and more. Merchant From Sepharad is an exquisite, historically rich book. It is perfect for those who love stories about religion and history, especially Jewish history.