The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition (Paperback)
The unexpected and moving story of an American journalist who works to uncover her family’s long-buried Jewish ancestry in Spain.
Raised a Catholic in California, New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal is shocked when she discovers that her background may actually be connected to conversos from Inquisition-era Spain: Jews who were forced to renounce their faith and convert to Christianity or face torture and death. With vivid childhood memories of Sunday sermons, catechism, and the rosary, Carvajal travels to the centuries-old Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera, to investigate her lineage and recover her family’s original religious heritage.
In Arcos, Carvajal comes to realize that fear remains a legacy of the Inquisition along with the cryptic messages left by its victims. Back at her childhood home in California, she uncovers papers documenting a family of Carvajals who were burned at the stake in the 16th-century territory of Mexico. Could the author’s family history be linked to the hidden history of Arcos? And could the unfortunate Carvajals have been her ancestors?
As she strives to find proof that her family had been forced to convert to Christianity six hundred years ago, Carvajal comes to understand that the past flows like a river through time—and that while the truth might be submerged, it is never truly lost.
About the Author
Doreen Carvajal is a Paris-based reporter for the The New York Times and a senior writer for the International Herald Tribune covering European issues. She has more than 25 years of journalism experience covering a broad range of subjects, from politics and immigration to book publishing and the media. She lives with her family near Paris.
"Doreen Carvajal has undertaken an extrordinary journey, and the story she tells is both personal and universal."
- Anne Lamott
"[A] compelling mix of memoir and reporting."
- O, The Oprah Magazine
“Unforgettable…Carvajal immerses herself and her readers in the ringing of Arcos’ ancient bells, the stories of its town historian, or cronista, and, most of all, the performance of haunting religious songs known as ‘saetas’ that may have originated as Jewish laments.”
– Chicago Tribune
- Christian Science Monitor
“This book is an important addition to the record of Jewish history, not because it describes what history books already can tell us but because it evokes a personal sense of both loss and redemption growing out of that brutal history.”
– Kansas City Star
“Carvajal is a journalist who understands the nuance and beauty of travel writing. Combining this gift with this highly personal story, she creates a book that shimmers with enchantment, pulling the reader into her life with gentle tugs on the heartstrings. What she calls ‘hunting family ghosts’ will resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place where they were and dreamed of finding another heritage just one layer beneath the one they had always accepted as the bedrock of their self-definition.”
- The Jewish Book Council
“A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.”
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Carvajal’s powerful prose is strong enough to hold these divergent story lines in a cohesive and engaging narrative of self-discovery and historical investigation.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Such an intriguing topic, and Carvajal…certainly knows how to write.”
- Library Journal
“[Carvajal’s] exploration reveals the fascinating legacy of the Jewish conversos…Her experiences not only reflect a heartfelt attempt to recapture a lost identity but also serve as a launching point for a wider exploration of the repercussions of the Inquisition.”