Across So Many Seas

Across So Many Seas
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Release Date
February 06, 2024
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Spanning over 500 years, Pura Belpré Award winner Ruth Behar's epic novel tells the stories of four girls from different generations of a Jewish family, many of them forced to leave their country and start a new life.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, Benvenida and her family are banished from Spain for being Jewish, and must flee the country or be killed. They journey by foot and by sea, eventually settling in Istanbul.

Over four centuries later, in 1923, shortly after the Turkish war of independence, Reina’s father disowns her for a small act of disobedience. He ships her away to live with an aunt in Cuba, to be wed in an arranged marriage when she turns fifteen.

In 1961, Reina’s daughter, Alegra, is proud to be a brigadista, teaching literacy in the countryside for Fidel Castro. But soon Castro’s crackdowns force her to flee to Miami all alone, leaving her parents behind.

Finally, in 2003, Alegra’s daughter, Paloma, is fascinated by all the journeys that had to happen before she could be born. A keeper of memories, she’s thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about her heritage on a family trip to Spain, where she makes a momentous discovery.

Though many years and many seas separate these girls, they are united by a love of music and poetry, a desire to belong and to matter, a passion for learning, and their longing for a home where all are welcome. And each is lucky to stand on the shoulders of their courageous ancestors.

Editor review

1 review
Multigenerational Family Saga
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From the points of view of four different young girls across a span of time going from 1492 to 2003, we see how the effects of forced migration are felt by one family. We first meet Benvenida and her family, who are living in Toledo, Spain at a time when all Jewish residents are forced to leave the country, even though they have been there for generations. Even though some people, including Benvenida's aunts, become conversos and deny their heritage to avoid problems, Benvenida's family chooses to leave and to go to live in Naples, Italy, with the mother's family. The journey out of the country is difficult, although they do meet some kindness along the way. The father dies on the sea voyage, and not everything is good in Naples. Benvenida's uncles and grandfather run a printing company, but soon are forced to leave, ending up in Turkey. In 1923, we meet Reina, who is living in Turkey with her parents and sisters. Her famiy still speaks Spanish. Their neighborhood is diverse, and one of Reina's best friends is Muslim. She is not supposed to talk to Sadik anymore, since she is twelve, but sneaks out with him and plays the oud at a celebration. When her father finds out, he decides to send her with an elderly aunt to Cuba, where he has married her off to an older man who will marry her when she turns 15. We meet her daughter Alegra who becomes a brigadista in the 1960s, when there are two sides to the feelings about Castro's regime. In 2003, at the funeral of Celia Cruz in Miami, we meet Paloma, who is learning all about her family history. Her father is Afro-Cuban, and her mother is the descendent of Benvenida, Reina, and Alegra. Her family is planning a trip to Spain, and once there, she finds even more connections to the past.

Good Points
Readers who liked the multiple perspectives in Gratz's Refugee will find it fascinating that all of the girls in this book are related. The beginning, set in 1492, offers a good look at history I have not seen covered in middle grade literature. The historical aspect of each story gives just enough information to support the trials of the young girls involved, and there were plenty of cultural details about the family's background. The thread of music throughout the book was a nice touch.

It was heartbreaking to see Reina sent from Turkey to Cuba to be married off, but it's also important for young people to know about these practices and to continue fighting for equality. The problems faced by Jewish citizens of a variety of countries are even more important to investigate today.

This is a great choice for readers who liked this author's Letter's From Cuba, Dobbs' The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, or Danticat's Behind the Mountain.
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