Literati is thrilled to welcome back Ruth Behar to celebrate the release of her new book Across So Many Seas. She'll be joined in conversation by Devi Mays.
About the Book: Drawn from research and imagination, sorrow and joy, loss and resilience, this novel is a haunting journey into the passage of time and how personal and collective memory connects us to the past, allows us to live in the present, and gives us hope for the future.
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.
Ruth Behar (ruthbehar.com), the Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba, was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Her work also includes poetry, memoir, and the acclaimed travel books An Island Called Home and Traveling Heavy. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur Genius Grant, and other honors include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and being named a Great Immigrant by the Carnegie Corporation. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Devi Mays is an Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and History at the University of Michigan specializing in Sephardi history and culture. Her book, Forging Ties, Forging Passports: Migration and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020) won the Dorothy Rosenberg Prize from the American Historical Association, the National Jewish Book Award in the category of Sephardic Culture, the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish History and Culture: Africa, Americas, Asia and Oceania from the Association for Jewish Studies, and the Alixa Naff Migration Studies Prize from the Moise Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies. Her articles have appeared in Jewish Social Studies, Mashriq & Mahjar, Jewish Quarterly Review, and AJS Perspectives. She is currently working with Julia Phillips Cohen on a book exploring a forgotten network of North African and Middle Eastern Jews in nineteenth and twentieth-century Europe.