This review by Rabbi Goldie Milgram was first published in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
Converso: A Historical Novel from Gaon Press is based in the period of the Spanish Inquisition's manifestation in America's Wild West, Mario X. Martinez's short murder mystery provides a really good read that introduces a little-taught period of American Jewish history. Converso is also a valuable creative stimulant for creating effective discussion of difficult ethical questions.
A high teacher at Rio Rancho High School in the Albuquerque area, Mario X. Martinez does a great job of maintaining plot tension, intrigue, and he certainly has done his homework on the period and Jewish practice. Mario didn't yet know if his genealogical research would prove him Jewish, but his novel was stimulated by the discovery of stories of Jewish practices in his grandmother's (from Pecos, New Mexico) life, and his work for respect between ethnic groups in his region. Converso began as a stage play by Mr. Martinez.
The ambiguities and outrages addressed in Converso invite us to contemplate who actually are the perpetrators of the crimes against individuals and humanity in the story? What is justice? When are requirements that result in oppression of identity a crime? Can retribution be allowed or justified? With which character might you identify as a reader? Those hidden? Those bold? Aggressive? The victims? Those too assimilated to care? Could you or I become so zealous about something we lose sight of the humanity of our neighbors? These are the primary issues raised in this tiny, potent "who-done-it" novel of historical fiction.
For those who give meaningful Hanukkah presents, Converso: A Historical Novel by Mario X. Martinez is an affordable and solid option and is appropriate, in my opinion, for adults through to bright eleven year-olds.