The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler is a historical mystery about the Jews of Lisbon during the massacre of 1506. The book is based on a manuscript discovered by the author while he was staying in Istanbul in 1990 researching Sephardic poetry. The owner of the home he stayed in is owned by a descendent of Jews who fled the persecutions and killings in Spain and Portugal during the 15th to 18th centuries. Fortunately for the Jews the Turkish Sultan offered them sanctuary in Constantinople. Some of them made it, others did not. While staying in this home during renovations by the owner, the author recounts how workmen found a cement vault in the basement with some very old manuscripts. They turned out to be an account by Berekiah Zarco, who lived through the 1506 persecutions in Lisbon, and recounted his story of the mystery of searching for his uncle's murderer.
This book includes a very graphic account of the murders of Jews and the burning of their bodies (dead and alive) in the main square of the city. Berekiah was a teen at the time, but possessed the wisdom and determination of one much older as he tried to solve the mystery of his uncle's murder. This is a first hand account of these terrible events that also provides rich and colorful descriptions of the city, the Jews, New Christians, Old Christians, the Dominican friars encouraging the murders of Jews, and the culture and customs of the period.
This is a first class mystery and historical novel. The fact that it is all true, and based on the manuscript of the man who lived it, is even more awesome. As usual, I don't want to say much more about the story itself or the people involved. Please read this book to find out for yourself. Here is a quote from the back cover of the paperback edition:
"The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is an international bestseller and an extraordinary novel that transports the reader into the universe of Jewish Kabbalah during the Lisbon massacre of April 1506. Risking his life in the streets seething with mayhem, a young manuscript illuminator, Berekiah Zarco, tracks the killer of his uncle, a renowned kabbalist, among Christians, New Christians, Jews, and his uncle's fellow kabbalists, whose secret language and codes at turns light and obscure the way to the truth he seeks. A marvelous read and a challenging mystery in the tradition of The Name of the Rose, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon compels and entertains."