With more and more ease, people today are discovering their Jewish roots — some finding they are the descendants of conversos, Jews who converted during the Inquisition. Mary Morris touches on this phenomenon in the historical note at the beginning of her novel, Gateway to the Moon. The chapters in the book alternate between fifteenth and sixteenth century Spain and Portugal during the harrowing time of the Inquisition, and a town in New Mexico in the late twentieth century. The characters in New Mexico have retained vestiges of their Jewish past, although they are unaware of their own history at the outset of the novel.
The title is an English translation of the town’s name, Entrada de la Luna, which seemed so remote to the Jews desperately fleeing their pursuers that they likened it to living on the moon. The characters in the town have interesting backstories, and Morris seamlessly drops hints of their Jewish past in ways that the characters themselves do not fully comprehend. There is also a wealthy Jewish family that becomes involved with one of the characters in the town; this interesting narrative thread serves to illuminate the various personalities in the book in ways that consistently hold the reader’s interest.
In Morris’s descriptions of life on the Iberian Peninsula, she skillfully recreates Jews’ fear of betrayal, as well as the exhaustion and despair of those who chose exile. Modern-day readers will learn what it was like to leave everything behind without a known destination or a safe way to travel. But while Morris writes about the horrors that awaited Jews who were tried by the Inquisition, she does not dwell on graphic details.
In less skillful hands, the sheer number of characters in different eras would prove confusing. However, Morris weaves a clear and interesting tapestry, giving the reader an indelible impression of what life was like at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, as well as a variety of interesting character portraits that make this a perfect vehicle for book club discussions.