El Iluminado

Our member Diane Goldman writes:

El Iluminado by Ilan Stavans and Steve Shemkin is a graphic novel. In the story, Professor Stavans arrives in Santa Fe to lecture about crypto-Jews in the Southwest, although he claims he is really there to see the opera. He lectures about Luis de Carvajal the Younger (El Iluminado), a 16th century man who was raised as a Catholic but discovers that his family is really secretly Jewish. Luis embraces and learns about Judaism, enduring, along with his family, the Inquisition. He became a leader, believing himself to be a kind of messiah. He also writes and leaves behind the story of his life and his search for meaning in the Bible. He died at the stake in 1596.

After the lecture, the Professor meets Irina Rodriguez who works in the museum where he gave his lecture. She brings Stavans into the mystery of her cousin Rolando’s death. Rolando believed he was of Jewish heritage and had some secret documents. Other people want to find them for their own use: Irina. A heckler at the lecture. Rolando’s brother who is a Catholic priest. A rival professor. A police detective who always seems to be popping up. Along the way, we hear a lot more history.

Stavans’ roots are in Yiddish-speaking Poland, though he was born and raised in Mexico. As he said in the book: “… in the States he doesn’t look Mexican. And in Mexico, he didn’t look Jewish.”

This is a book about identity and narratives.