First published in 1991, Against the Inquisition, by the Argentine Jewish novelist Marcos Aguinis, appeared in English only this year. Like most of Aguinis’s works, it deals with weighty themes tied to Jewish history—in this case, the Inquisition in South America. Dara Horn writes in her review:
Against the Inquisition . . . is based on the astounding true story of Francisco Maldonado da Silva, a 17th-century doctor descended from conversos, who re-embraced his Judaism and faced the consequences. Aguinis brings his story to life in intimate human terms. . . .
[As a boy], Francisco witnesses his father’s arrest [for crypto-Judaism], followed by his older brother’s. Both father and brother are taken to the Inquisition’s New World headquarters in Lima, thousands of miles away; the brother is never heard from again. The church’s ulterior motive becomes clear as its officials confiscate the family’s property. . . . Francisco winds up in a monastery, where he devotes himself to mastering Church teachings to undo the taint of his criminal father. He becomes a star pupil and . . . a devoted Catholic, but part of him is still searching for his father—whom he miraculously finds. . . .
But as father and son reunite, Francisco gradually learns that his father never truly “repented”—and his father, slowly dying from his injuries and from the private shame of turning others in, teaches his son the meaning of Judaism. After years of being brainwashed by the church into viewing Judaism as demonic, Francisco struggles to understand the real nature of Jewish practice and belief, and it takes time for him to see just how deeply he has been immersed in lies. The novel’s depiction of this loving process of discarding delusions and self-loathing is one of the author’s master strokes. . . .
Against the Inquisition is not simply a period piece. The novel’s bones are those of the author’s own encounters with authoritarian regimes and the groupthink that supports them. As a seven-year-old in Argentina in 1942, Aguinis, like Francisco, learned the frightening truth about his family’s place in history—in his case, that his grandparents in Europe had been murdered by the Nazis. As an adult, Aguinis endured Argentina’s brutal 1970s dictatorship that disproportionately targeted Jews. . . .
Aguinis has been outspoken against the worldwide wave of anti-Semitism in its newer guise of anti-Zionism; his ongoing defense of Israel in the international Spanish-language press requires a bravery his 17th-century characters know well. Aguinis’s work has always tackled the submissiveness and denial that make authoritarianism possible. But in this novel he emphasizes something particularly resonant today, in light of the rise of anti-Zionism worldwide: long before demanding Jews’ bodies, anti-Semitic societies demanded Jews’ dignity, requiring that they publicly give up their ancient loyalties for the prize of not being treated like dirt—and thereby making them complicit in their own degradation. The torture rack may be long gone, but the Inquisition’s psychological legacy endures.