"The King became passionately enamored with a Jewess who was called by the name of Fermosa, meaning The Beautiful, and he forgot his wife. And he shut himself up with the Jewess for almost seven full years, forgetful of himself, and of his realm also, and paying no heed to any other thing." - Alfonso el Sabio, “Crónica General,” c. 1270. This is a haunting love story of Alfonso VIII, the Christian King of Castile, and Raquel, the beautiful Jewess of Toledo, two lovers trapped by the bitterness and conflict of their times in a tragic alliance. Raquel was the daughter of Yehuda, a wealthy, proud aristocrat, who had come from Seville with his family to serve as Alfonso’s Minister of Finance. His mission was to replenish the country’s depleted treasury, but he saw in this assignment an opportunity to prevent war between the Christian North and the Moslem South and in the process to save his own people, the Jews, from being crushed between these two ruthless forces. But when the impetuous Alfonso fell in love with Raquel and demanded her as his mistress, Yehuda had to choose between his daughter’s future and the fate of his people. In this epic romance of the lovers and their bitter destinies, Lion Feuchtwanger, one of the world’s great historical novelists, has brilliantly recreated the drama and pageantry of the Middle Ages, rent with love and hate, cruelty and compassion, profanity and piety, bloodshed and ritual.
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The celebrated German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958) was an incomparable master of the historical novel, applying his distinctive technique of projecting critical contemporary themes onto exceptional individuals and complex historical scenery from times long gone. Using a thorough knowledge of historical detail and playing the role of an enlightened philosopher with a highly idiosyncratic literary style, he engaged both ancient Jewish history and the dilemmas of Jewish existence in his key writings. Throughout his career, Feuchtwanger was drawn to a central theme of Jewishness, and his best work presents the enigma of the Jew and treats the quandary of being Jewish in a non-Jewish world. He depicts the predicament of the “modern” Jew, of whatever historical period, in achieving a synthesis of his or her particular relationship to the Jewish people and a universal relationship to all humanity. Beginning in 1925 with his instantly famous novel "Jew Süss" and followed by his "Josephus" trilogy—"Josephus" ("The Judean War"), 1932; "The Jew of Rome," 1935; and "Josephus and the Emperor" ("The Emperor and His Jew"), 1942—Feuchtwanger deals with the theme of nationalism versus cosmopolitanism, in the trilogy specifically via the life of Josephus Flavius, the renowned yet controversial Jewish historian of the first century. In these inimitable and haunting works, as also in his life, Josephus witnesses firsthand the tragic fall of Judea and the Jerusalem Temple, and then spends his life defending the Jewish cause on the world’s greatest stage at the time, Rome. Feuchtwanger also wrote fascinating historical novels on Goya the artist, Benjamin Franklin in France ("Arms for America"), and Rousseau the philosopher. Toward his life’s end in California, Feuchtwanger took up the theme of Jewishness again in his novel "Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo" (all forthcoming from MaKoM---see MaKoM Publications titles).
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