Marcia Fine for GoodReads says:
Five stars. I couldn't put this book down. With a glossary, bibliography and questions for reading groups this is a good book club choice. Brava! Show more...
Marcia Riman Selz’s novel At Vitoria: A City's Medieval Promise Between Christians and Jews shines a light on an area I am familiar with because I’ve written two novels about the Inquisition. I know the history; however, when an author takes the historical facts and crafts characters who make that history come alive, it’s a five star book! Selz explores the details of the Jewish community in Basque country, a part of northern Spain they were hoping the Evil Queen would forget to include in her expulsion. Beautifully written, the author takes us on the journey with the Crevago family’doctors who save many lives, exquisite shoe makers who endear themselves to many and strong women who are bound in their roles. The author captures the pain of displacement so I felt I was in the room when decisions were made. Certain scenes will remain with me. I couldn’t put this book down. With a glossary, bibliography and questions for reading groups this is a good book club choice. Brava! Show less....
Ann for GoodReads says:
Five stars. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves reading about history especially church and Jewish history. Show more...
This book was very hard for me to put down! Very well-written and well researched. It has left me wanting to research more into the Spanish Inquisition. If fact, I looked up some info while I was reading. Very interesting but horrible time in our history. The persecution that the Jews went through in this time period and by the hands of Ferdinand and Isabella was appalling.
I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves reading about history especially church and Jewish history.
I received this book from goodreads giveaways. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review it! Show less....
Michelle for GoodReads says:
Five stars. I learned a lot and enjoyed every minute reading it. Thanks Ms. Selz for your obsession and for sharing the story with us. Show more...
Once a researcher, always a researcher. The detail of the 15 century is impressive. While the book reads and flows as a novel, it provides a wonderful opportunity to get under the skin and into the hearts of the characters. I learned a lot and enjoyed every minute reading it. Thanks Ms. Selz for your obsession and for sharing the story with us. Show less....
Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite says:
Five stars. “At Vitoria” will introduce readers to the Jews and Christians who resided in Vitoria, Spain. Readers are taken on a journey along with the Crevago family and see how they managed to live in harmony with their Christian neighbors. This historical novel is informative and the trauma undergone by the Jews during that period is heartrending and palpable to readers. Show more...
At Vitoria: A City’s Medieval Promise Between Christians and Sephardic Jews by Marcia Riman Selz is a fascinating story of love, hatred, tears, shame, terror, and tragedy that takes readers to the medieval city of Vitoria in northern Spain where families were expelled after the edict of expulsion was issued by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The twelve men who were the leaders of the congregation had lived in France ever since then and built large homes in the better parts of Bayonne. Everyone knew the story of how the Jews were ostracized, expelled, murdered, and robbed, though many of their ancestors who lived in other parts of Spain were not subjected to these types of atrocities. This book is also about the story of Crevagos, a Jewish family who lived and survived through the Spanish Inquisition.
At Vitoria will introduce readers to the Jews and Christians who resided in Vitoria, Spain. Readers are taken on a journey along with the Crevago family and see how they managed to live in harmony with their Christian neighbors. This historical novel is informative and the trauma undergone by the Jews during that period is heartrending and palpable to readers. At Vitoria gives readers details about what exactly happened in the Spanish town of Vitoria and also shows the dark side of humanity that existed in those days. The author has researched well and given readers a story steeped in history, where the cruelty of the period was overshadowed by the friendship between the Christians and the Sephardic Jews. The characters are well sketched and the book is a riveting combination of history, drama, facts, and fiction that will keep readers glued till the very end. Show less....
kislany for OnlineBookClub.org says:
4 out of 4 stars. The book grabbed me from the moment the Crevagos were heatedly discussing a particular cemetery. The argument made me curious to learn the fate of said resting place. By the end of the story, however, I’ve learned more than expected about a dark time in Europe’s history. Show more...
Marcia Riman Selz is a debut author whose novel transports us to a troubled Spain during the 15th century. The story takes place around the time of the Alhambra Decree issued by Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, two monarchs who ordered all practicing Jews to leave from their Spanish territories by the end of July 1492.
The story in At Vitoria gives us a glimpse into the day-to-day existence of the Jewish Crevago family of shoemakers. Vidal Crevago, who travels across the country to deliver handcrafted shoes to customers, learns that Jews in other areas are forced to convert to Christianity; however, even those who converted are not spared from humiliation or death. Vidal is trying in vain to convince his family to move to safer places, but Vitoria is a peaceful town that has yet to be touched by evil. When the new decree is approved, the Crevago family members have to take an almost impossible decision if they want to survive.
The book grabbed me from the moment the Crevagos were heatedly discussing a particular cemetery. The argument made me curious to learn the fate of said resting place. By the end of the story, however, I’ve learned more than expected about a dark time in Europe’s history. I knew about the Inquisition and its persecution of witches, but I was unaware that Jewish people had a similar fate during those early years in Europe.
Surprisingly, this story didn’t have a central character. It lacked a main hero you could sympathize with or root for. Instead, the author gave us an entire family with diverse members going about their lives and dealing in their own ways with the crisis that fell upon them. I enjoyed the book a lot; however, the author’s take on the characters left me slightly distanced from them. I couldn’t relate very much to any of them, although they were all quite sympathetic. Initially, I rooted for Vidal Crevago, but then the author focused on someone else in the family, and Vidal no longer appeared until later in the story.
As for the story itself, it was a dark tale that had its bright and uplifting moments. It was written quite well, and it had a large number of details about the diverse Jewish customs of the times. For example, the Seder ritual was described on several pages with Vidal telling the entire story of the Exodus of the Jews. By reading this book, I’ve learned quite a lot — maybe too much — about the various Jewish religious customs and traditions. What elevated the story in my mind was the end, which had a resolution I didn’t see coming. I liked that the loose ends were tied up in the last chapter.
It surprised me to learn that this was the author’s first novel. The story flows well, and the sentences don’t sound choppy at all (which is a flaw visible in the books of most first-time novelists). I didn’t find many grammatical errors, so the book was professionally edited. A few missing or wrongly placed commas, a missing quotation mark, and an added typographical error formed the bulk of the mistakes in the book.
Thus, I give At Vitoria 4 out of 4 stars even though I had a few minor issues with the characters and the overly detailed descriptions. For a debut novel, it was too well-crafted to penalize it. I recommend it to lovers of European historical fiction, and to people who delight in reading meticulous details about the traditions of other cultures. There is one mention of rape in the book, so sensitive people should be aware of it.
Christine Kelley, Claremont Graduate University says:
Thank you again for coming to CGU and giving such a great talk Wednesday. I wrote a blog post about it for our CDO blog. Show more...
Marcia Selz: Renaissance Woman
A renaissance person is one who has knowledge and skills in multiple arenas and can mix those areas to create new pathways. In the Career Development Office we call people like that purple squirrels. On Wednesday April 17, 2019 the CDO hosted renaissance woman/purple squirrel and CGU alum Marcia Selz, PhD, Executive Management.
Professor Josh Goode interviewed Marcia about her career path and her recent incarnation as a writer. Her just released work of historical fiction is called At Vitoria: A City’s Medieval Promise Between Christians and Sephardic Jews. Throughout the discussion Marcia provided her "takeaways" from her career, her time as a PhD student and what led her to write her book.
Her big takeaway was to ask questions and seek answers. Marcia shared that even as a child she was always asking questions and her father encouraged her to seek answers. Her PhD program helped her refine her skills as an investigator of knowledge. It was this inquisitiveness that led her on the path to writing a book after a vacation in Spain that left her with a burning question she had to explore.
Marcia also discussed the need to be flexible and her flexibility is apparent in her career. She started her career as a school teacher, moved into business, then created her own business, became a consultant and now a writer. She gave the audience a few highlights about her next book project about fear which is based on an experience she had as a teenager.
During her business career Marcia learned that she needed to establish her credibility fast-she said she had 7 seconds. She was often the only woman in meetings and knew it would be a challenge to control the room. An audience member asked her if the PhD helped, she said with the PhD she got 10 seconds. Her big takeaway for succeeding in business is: Do what you said you’d do by the deadline you said you’d meet for the cost you promised.
Finally, Marcia said when she told people she wanted to write a book they told her to get used to rejection. She said the initial feedback on her manuscript was that the story was interesting but that she had no idea how to write a novel. Rather than succumbing to defeat, Marcia got a writing mentor and the rest is history.
We all look forward to her next book and hope she’ll come back and share it with us when she’s finished. Show less....
San Diego Jewish World says:
"Selz’s depiction of the home lives of the extended Crevago family are so evocative, at times I felt I was sitting down with the family at the main meal." Show more...
While the Basque people of Vitoria, Spain, were Christians, like the Jews, they were outsiders, not quite like the other Christians of Castile or other parts of newly united Spain. So, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella began issuing edicts against the Jews, the Basques were never particularly quick to enforce them. Besides, when illnesses had swept the region, their own Christian doctors had fled, but the Jewish doctors remained behind, saving many Basque families. This special bond could never be forgotten.
In Marcia Riman Selz’s historical novel, events unfold through the eyes of the Crevago family, whose members are shoemakers, doctors, and scholars. The Crevago brother who delivers elegant shoes to customers throughout Spain has the misfortune to witness a treasured friend and his wife burned at the stake for continuing to practice their Jewish religion after pretending to convert to Catholicism. It was a sight he never could forget, but nevertheless he could not persuade other members of his family to pull up stakes and leave Spain for safer countries, perhaps Holland. Those who have read Holocaust literature will be familiar with arguments made by this family in an even earlier era of hatred for remaining in a town where they had enjoyed business success and social ties. Add to those reasons the amity between the Basque and Jewish communities, and the Jews of Vitoria decided to stay put — at least while the choice was theirs.
Among the Basques, as with all peoples, there was a criminal element. The novel details two brutal instances of sexual violence perpetrated against female and male Crevago family members. Life in Vitoria, was by no means perfect, but compared to the scourge of religious hatred elsewhere in Spain, the risks seemed acceptable.
Eventually, however, Ferdinand and Isabella, at the urging of the Catholic Church and Torquemada, its Grand Inquisitor, ordered all Jews to convert, or die, or vacate every inch of Spanish soil. Against this edict even the Basques were powerless to intervene, and so the Jews of Vitoria had to pull up stakes and leave, but to where? Anyone who ever has seen the play or movie, Fiddler on the Roof, cannot help but be reminded of the Jews asking the same questions before they began pushing their carts loaded with their belongings from the mythical Russian empire town of Anatevka.
At Vitoria opens in Bayonne, France, which lies on the other side of the Pyrenees from Spain. It is here where most of the Crevago family settled because it too is a Basque town. The question before the Jewish community in Bayonne was whether to release the development-minded Basques of Vitoria from a pledge made in 1492, the year of the Expulsion, to maintain the Jewish cemetery. The question is controversial, not only for the Jews, who want to remember their past, but also for some Basques, who want to continue honoring the centuries-old pact.
I mentioned that besides doctors and shoemakers, the Crevago family had its scholars. One in particular decided to convert to Catholicism so that he could learn more about the world. In this fictional version of history, he changed his name to Luis de Torres and sailed west with Christopher Columbus.
While I am glad that I read this novel, and would recommend it to others, I have mixed feelings about it. I believe both the Holocaust and Fiddler on the Roof were likely 20th Century influences on author Selz’s telling of this 15th Century story, giving me—and possibly other readers—a sense of “seen that, read that.” Likewise, I felt that some of the Jewish prayers uttered by characters in this story were taken from modern siddurim, possibly Ashkenazic rather than Sephardic.
Moreover, there are many legends about Luis de Torres, who as Columbus’ translator was expecting to reach the Asian continent. According to one legend, he tried communicating unsuccessfully with the indigenous people of the Caribbean in Hebrew and in Arabic on the theory that they might have been descended from the Ten Lost Tribes. I have misgivings about Selz making the historical Torres a member of the fictional Crevago family, because this flight of imagination may, in time, find its way into the historical record, which I believe should remain sacrosanct. On the other hand, I liked the way Selz brought a woman’s voice to this era of world history, reflecting as she did upon the limited choices women faced in an era when they were neither permitted education nor given choices in whom they might marry. Nevertheless, they often held sway over domestic matters. Selz’s depiction of the home lives of the extended Crevago family are so evocative, at times I felt I was sitting down with the family at the main meal. Show less....
Kirkus Reviews says:
"A well-constructed, highly informative historical novel." Show more...
Debut author Selz offers a historical novel about a family of Sephardic Jews, starting in the years leading up to the Edict of Expulsion in the late 15th century.
The Crevagos, a family of shoemakers living in the city of Vitoria, Spain, have largely been spared the pogroms and anti-Semitic riots that have affected Jews in other parts of the country. They and other members of city’s Sephardic Jewish community live in a state of peace and mutual respect with their Basque neighbors, and it’s been that way since the days of the Roman Empire. However, a new regime has risen—one less sympathetic to the traditions of country’s Jews. “Pressure is building from the Church,” recounts family patriarch Vidal Crevago after one of his sales trips across the peninsula. “They want everyone to be Catholic. Our choice is to convert or die.” Even so, the other members of his family aren’t overly concerned—until Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella unleash the Spanish Inquisition on Jews and Muslims. What if the family’ only option is to give up the home they love? The Crevagos’ decision has an effect that extends all the way to 1950s France, when the threats to and options for their descendants take unexpected turns. Selz effectively summons the world of 15th-century Vitoria with great gusto and vibrant detail: “women threw the contents of mierda pots filled with human piss and waste from the upper windows onto the street. The stench would be called horrific by some; however, to Vidal it was the smell of home.” The apparent goal of the novel is to present the plain facts of the Edict of Expulsion, with little in the way of superfluous plot, and in this it succeeds; readers who are unfamiliar with this era will learn much. However, the members of the Crevago family are still believable and sympathetic enough that readers will become invested in their plights.
A well-constructed, highly informative historical novel. Show less....
Clarion Reviews says:
"Based on true events and real people, At Vitoria pays homage to a community with strong roots and family ties. The little-known historical details make this an eye-opening and satisfying read." Show more...
Based on true events and real people, At Vitoria pays homage to a community with strong roots and family ties.
“The world is small for Jews,” observes Vidal Crevago, a Jewish shoemaker living in fifteenth-century Spain. His hometown of Vitoria serves as the epicenter of Marcia Riman Selz’s historical novel At Vitoria, set during the Spanish Inquisition. It celebrates Jewish survival and encourages the preservation of a powerful history.
In 1453, tensions run high between Christians and Jews across Europe, with violence against Jews—as well as against those who have converted to Christianity—escalating from year to year. Segregation, discrimination, and even murder are common on the Iberian Peninsula. The Crevago family adores their home, however, having lived there since their migration from France a few generations earlier.
As the years go by, Vidal, who travels often for work, observes a pattern of increasing violence across the country, but the social tensions turn political once Isabella and Ferdinand become queen and king. Jewish elected officials are removed from office, families have their land and possessions confiscated, and many Jews turn to practicing their religion in secrecy. Soon, the violence encroaches on Vitoria, and Vidal must make terrible decisions to protect his family and his livelihood.
As the novel progresses, the plot shifts from descriptions of what Vidal sees in his travels around Spain—and his family’s reluctant receipt of this information—to the more personal experiences of the Vitoria community at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, culminating in an ultimatum from Isabella and Ferdinand: convert to Christianity, be expelled from the country, or die.
Accurate history and the lives of these characters are skillfully woven together, seamlessly and without awkward transitions between narrative and exposition. Even the fictional elements contain historical detail that is as educational as it is enjoyable to read; the dialogue, for instance, succeeds in revealing characters and propelling the story forward, but it also helps to depict the day-to-day lives of Jews in Spain nearly 600 years ago. Most of the characters exist to partake in this dialogue, without too much personality seeping through; Vidal, his brother Benjamin, and a handful of minor characters are the only multidimensional people populating the novel.
The story is framed by a twentieth-century meeting of community leaders, who discuss the future of a 1000-year-old cemetery site upon which the city would like to build condos. For a descendant of Vidal Crevago, the need for its preservation is obvious: it symbolizes a promise between those who left Vitoria all those years ago and those who stayed, for them to have some history to return to when Spain became safe again.
Based on true events and real people, At Vitoria pays homage to a community with strong roots and family ties. The little-known historical details make this an eye-opening and satisfying read. Show less....
Blueink Review says:
"... At Vitoria should hold strong appeal to students of Jewish history and tradition." Show more...
At Vitoria is a historical novel about the expulsion of Jewish families from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and the Alhambra Decree with which Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain sought to make the country a purely Catholic nation.
A prologue, set in 1952, introduces a centuries-old promise made to Vitoria’s Jews to preserve their cemetery forever. The reason for this promise is revealed in the ensuing story, set in the 15th century and concerning the Crevago family, tight-knit Sephardic Jews that make luxury shoes. Vidal, the family salesman, travels the country selling shoes. When he sees the rising threat to Jews, he wants to move the family to Holland, but his brothers won’t agree, and the Crevagos endure tragedy, illness and emotional upheaval before facing up to the realities of the Inquisition.
The novel’s strength is in its descriptions of the traditions and daily living of a medieval Jewish family. Telling details bring the past to life: the water clock by which Vidal’s sister times the cooking of matzo; the cutting of convicts’ hair so strands won’t fly around the crowd when prisoners are burned at the stake, and so on. This realism, however, becomes problematic with two graphic rape scenes (one of a teenage girl, the other of a man), as it’s unclear what they add to the story’s narrative arc.
Additionally, Vidal appears to be the novel’s main character, but after the first five chapters, the point of view widens to feature others, including, on two occasions, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The large cast diffuses the story’s emotional impact, as do varying leaps of time between chapters. (Two significant family members, for example, are active and alive at one chapter’s conclusion, but within a page of the next chapter, readers learn both have died.)
Such flaws lessen the narrative’s effectiveness. Nonetheless, At Vitoria should hold strong appeal to students of Jewish history and tradition. Show less....
How could a medieval Jewish cemetery in Vitoria, Spain be the cause of so much debate? At Vitoria transports the reader to the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century and weaves a story of success, downfall, love, terror, tragedy, shame, and honor. The historical and cultural details surrounding the story make for an evocative narrative that draws the reader in and provides an engaging sense of realism.
Marcia Riman Selz spent her business career as a marketing consultant to financial institutions. But after a vacation in Spain, the calling to write about Vitoria and its medieval Jewish community was overwhelming. So after several years of research, she wrote At Vitoria.
Dr. Selz earned her Ph.D. from the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, her MBA from Loyola-Marymount University and her Bachelors Degree from Indiana University.