Thursday, August 13, 2020

Book review: The Secret Music at Tordesillas by Marjorie Sandor

“Inside one note, many more are hidden.” For her first novel, National Jewish Book Award winner Sandor imagines the life of a converso musician in the retinue of the Spanish queen Juana I of Castile.

After his sovereign lady’s death during her long confinement at Tordesillas in 1555, Juan de Granada tells his richly poetic account to two inquisitors of the Holy Office charged with finding secret Jews. Juana was never meant to be her parents’ heir, and her unrequited devotion to her handsome husband and others’ desire for control of her realm prompt rumors about her mental state. Her lady-in-waiting Inés de Castro, who becomes Juan’s love interest, is a complicated woman with dangerous secrets.

Infusing her work with elements from a unique confluence of cultures and religions in Spanish history, Sandor vividly contrasts people’s public roles with their covert beliefs and desires. At times, the language’s abstractness may have readers longing for greater clarity, but Sandor’s prose is seductive, akin to musical notes expressed on the page, and she presents a new, affecting view of a tragic royal figure.

The Secret Music at Tordesillas was published by Hidden River Arts as a paperback in June; this review first ran in Booklist Online this week. The book was the first winner of the publisher's Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction. I recognize some other authors' names among the finalists and semifinalists and hope to see their books in print one day, too.