The Phoenix Bride

  • Review
By – March 11, 2024

This beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion takes place in the mid to late 1600s. Jews have been invit­ed back to Eng­land after a four hun­dred-year expul­sion, which was an edict of the king in the year 1290. Span­ish and Por­tuguese Jews sought refuge in Eng­land from Portugal’s Inqui­si­tion in around 1497, about twen­ty years after the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion had been decreed. The Jews have made new lives for them­selves in Eng­land, though they’re still wary about their new home and fear being too open about their her­itage after so many years spent as conversos.

Cecil­ia, a bright young woman, can’t believe her luck when William Thorow­good, the for­mer fiancé of her sis­ter Mar­garet, mar­ries her. They enjoy a fairy-tale love — until she sud­den­ly becomes wid­owed due to the plague. Cecil­ia falls into an extreme depres­sion and is tak­en in by her sis­ter. Mar­garet has mar­ried noble­man Robert Eden, whose wealth and posi­tion in the king’s court are notable.

Cecil­ia is seen by many heal­ers, but to no avail. Even­tu­al­ly, Mar­garet calls on the physi­cian David Mendes, who uses the roots, vines, fruit, leaves, and barks that he grows in his gar­den. He is an ency­clo­pe­dia of botany, like his old and ail­ing father, Gas­par, and like the gen­er­a­tions of Jew­ish men who were physi­cians before them. 

Gas­par moved with David from Por­tu­gal in the hopes of prac­tic­ing Judaism more open­ly. While David fol­lows the fam­i­ly tra­di­tions, he is always ques­tion­ing. Gas­par wants his son to mar­ry and begin his own fam­i­ly, but this, too, makes David hes­i­tate. He is afraid of any deep con­nec­tion after los­ing his best friend.

David’s heal­ing meth­ods are dif­fer­ent from those of the oth­er heal­ers that have vis­it­ed Cecil­ia. He actu­al­ly lis­tens to his patient, so she begins to trust him and free her­self emo­tion­al­ly from her sis­ter. Cecil­ia comes to enjoy Lon­don in small dos­es, espe­cial­ly the ener­gy of the peo­ple and the lush St. James Park, where the two secret­ly meet. From this true con­nec­tion of heart and mind, an impos­si­ble romance develops.

The sto­ry moves on to Cecilia’s reluc­tant mar­riage to noble­man Samuel Grey, the nephew of Margaret’s hus­band, who promis­es her friend­ship, free­dom, and wealth. This secures the two sis­ters finan­cial­ly. Then, the Great Fire of Lon­don caus­es Cecil­ia and Sam to depart, lead­ing to a wel­come phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion from Margaret.

The Phoenix Bride is a fast read that’s woven with inter­est­ing his­to­ry. We learn about heal­ing meth­ods for phys­i­cal and men­tal health, Jew­ish tra­di­tions, the con­ver­sos’ way of life and search for reli­gious free­dom, and the dis­par­i­ty between the lives of the king’s court and those of city dwellers. This fine­ly writ­ten romance nov­el is worth­while for any­one inter­est­ed in these topics.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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