Incantation Review

Happy Monday everyone! I hope its going well for all of you, as it is for me! Today you will be getting two rather short reviews. As I am preparing this review, I’m not doing so hot on my book list for this month. Its sorta a shame but at the same time, whatever lol.

Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target  audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.

That being said… Spoilers ahead.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Synopsis From The Book

Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family’s true identity–and her family’s secrets are made public–she confronts a world she’s never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.

Winner of numerous “best book” citations and infused with the rich context of history and faith, Incantation is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance that Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry described as “Magical and spellbinding…Painful and exquisitely beautiful.”

Historical Drama | YA – E | Witch Hunts, Betrayal | Remembering, Pride of Heritage, Love and Hate, Identity

Initial Thoughts Before Reading:

Looks like this book is 166 pages of history. A quick flip through has shown me large writing and some really pretty partitioning. I’m not expecting this to take me a long time to read. I have the scholastic version of this book cover and I do like it more than the one that shows up for all of you. This is an oddly thin book too. Anyway, let’s get on into this!

Initial Thoughts After Reading:

This was a really short book but really powerful all the same. hmmmmm what to say about this. Not sure. But I did learn something that I didn’t know which is always awesome, even if the history is a particularly dark thing.

Plot Overview:

Estrella is a girl living in Spain, 13th-15th century, I’m not sure exactly when. One day she and her friend Catalina go into town to see a burning, a burning of books by men who are prosecuting jews. From that point on, her life is turned apart. The family next door is ripped apart when they are said to be secret jews, and Estrella sees Catalina and Catalina’s mom stealing their things. Estrella falls for Catalina’s cousin (to whom Catalina is promised) Andres. Estrella finds out that her family are secret Jews after a listing is posted on how to identify them. Her family has been that way for generations pretending to be Christians. Luis, her brother, is becoming a priest to protect them further.

Estrella finds out her grandfather is a surgeon, and her mother is a really good doctor. Catalina betrays Estrella after Catalina catches Estrella and Andres together. She betrays Estrella’s family by saying truths and lies, and Estrella’s grandfather and then her mother are taken. Her grandfathers had a trial and then is stoned. Her mother has a trial and is sentenced to burn. She tries to see her mother, and gets her mother’s emerald ring. With Andres’ help, she uses the ring to get transportation to Amsterdam and to send a message to her brother to flee to there. She goes to the Muslim doctor and gets tablets that will make it so her mother will not feel pain as she burns, and then has Andres throw it to her. 

Her brother is captured and her mother gets a tablet to him. Her brother’s crime is the greatest since he was studying to be a priest. He is beaten and broken beyond repair. Before the flames can take her mother, her mothers neck is broken by a guard. They are burned and people are burned alive. Estrella and her grandmother hide out at the Muslim Doctor’s house for a night and then find Andres in the morning, to move to Amsterdam and then to the new world. She tells her children the story so that they too may remember.

What I Liked:

Estrella/Esther; Poor girl had to watch her entire life ripped apart from her in days after her best friend betrays her.

Abra; What a beautiful woman. A healer? A well spoken and well learned woman in that time? I loved her as much as Estrella did and cried with her when she saw her mother die. This woman’s hands were stained blue, like all the shades of life.

Andres; What a good guy. I was so afraid he’d betray Estrella too. So afraid. He liked a girl and then found out she was in a marginalized group and actually tried to get her out at the risk of his own life.

Catalina; This girl made a decision because she was jealous, that completely destroyed the life of a girl she said was her best friend. I can’t forgive her.

Grandmother and Grandfather; What a good set of humans, who were only trying their best to protect their family. My heart is to both of them.

General History; I’m not sure if this is a period that is talked about a lot in other countries, but I know that in my schools this period is talked about but the implications are pretty heavily glossed over. Which is to say I understood the Inquisition happened, and that it resulted in the deaths of many, but it didn’t really hit me about just what exactly that means. Its so easy to forget that these things are very real and repeat all too often. And that they aren’t just pretty moments of history with a little bit of darkness. After all the whole of that period was dark and there was disease and so much otherness in terms of horror, right? Sadly there is a lot more weight to it than I think we are taught.

What I Would Have Liked or Changed:

Something about the actual size of the book threw me off. It’s like 3/4 the size length wise, compared to normal paperbacks. I think it fit weird in my hand because of that.

Incantation on top of a regular sized book. (And my bullet journal lol)

Rating: 4/5

Notable Quotes:

“If every life is a river, then it’s little wonder that we do not even notice the changes that occur until we are far out in the darkest sea.” – pg 3

“That’s the way love sounds. You think it should feel like honey, but instead it cuts like a knife.” – pg 22

“But most important of all, she explained that it was right to say. No. I disagree. That was a gift. I understood it was power. The power to think my own thoughts. The power to believe in myself.” – pg 33

“A monster is hard to see and even harder to kill. It takes time to grow so huge, time to crawl up into the open air. People will tell you it’s not there; you’re imagining it. But a book is a book. Pages are pages. Hawks are hawks. Doves are doves. Hatred is always hatred.” – pg 57

“Every time someone forgets, someone else disappears.” – pg 111

“We had to survive to remember. Otherwise everything we were would disappear. Those people we loved would fade as though we’d never loved them, as if they’d never walked and talked and burned. Forgetting them was the real evil. That was the hole of darkness.”- pg 162-163

pt 1
pt 2

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