Sunday, October 3, 2010
The Turquoise Ring, by Grace Tiffany
This is part of Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - T is for Turquoise (and Tiffany)
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice begins with Antonio, who will famously owe the Jew Shylock a pound of flesh, stating, "And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself." To know oneself is a challenge, and even moreso to know another. The Merchant of Venice paints of harsh picture of Shylock but Shakespeare scholar Grace Tiffany takes us beneath the surface, delving back into his life and the lives of the women around him to reveal a sensitive and mournful man. In doing so, she asks us how much we really know about ourselves and each other.
The Turquoise Ring begins with the story of Leah, the headstrong young Spanish woman, half "Old Christian" and half Jewish, who captures the heart of Shylock, or Shiloh as Ms. Tiffany tells us he was first called. Leah gives Shiloh the turquoise ring, gifted to her by a Moorish swordmaker, as a token of her love. That love is dangerous in Inquisition-era Spain, but Leah persists in her affection for the pious Shiloh and marries him, against her Christian father's will. She will pay the greatest price for her embrace of the Jewish faith, leaving Shiloh deeply wounded and the single father to a young girl. Horrified by his fate, Shiloh flees Spain for Venice, hoping to find a tolerant home for himself and his infant.
Shiloh's hopes are to be disappointed as his story winds through Venice and the Terra Firma provinces in Italy, picking up the tales of the various characters who populate Shakespeare's play. His daughter's own rebellious love introduces us to women representing the various wrinkles of faith and character in sixteenth century Europe, as they all struggle to gain control over their lives against the bigotry of their time. Their efforts drive the novel's plot and reveal the humanity lurking behind the scowling face of Shylock the moneylender. This was a rich, beautiful read - I highly recommend it. (And no knowledge of Shakespeare is required to enjoy it!)