Levy, Daniella. By Light of Hidden Candles. Kasva. Oct. 2017. 370p. ISBN 9780991058471. pap. $14.95. F
[DEBUT] Alma Ben-Ami is next in line to attempt to solve the mystery handed down through the generations of her Jewish family, from grandmother to grand-daughter, that involves returning a gold signet ring to its owner or his descendants. Determined to end this 500-year-old quest, Alma signs up for a class at New York University that promises archival research. Manuel Aguilar and his mother moved to New York from Spain several years ago, and he is now also attending NYU. Having grown up Catholic, Manuel even considered becoming a priest once he finishes his education, but in the meantime, he wanders into a Judaica store and meets Alma, with whom he strikes up a friendship. Alma and Manuel team up and head to Spain with their class for a semester to research their respective family histories. What they find growing between them as well as what is hidden in the archives surprises them both.
Verdict: This debut from author Levy is part history lesson and part love story that spans from the Spanish Inquisition to present-day Manhattan. Levy provides plenty of detail for the history lover about being Jewish in today’s world and over the centuries as well as a sweet and poignant love story for romance fans. A story that is often funny, always intriguing, and at times suspenseful. —Lisa Jordan, Johnson Cty. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of Even in Darkness
Daniella Levy’s first historical novel, By Light of Hidden Candles, includes many attractive aspects: main characters who transcend our expectations, a mystery originating in Inquisition-era Spain and Morocco, a touch of chaste romance, and a whiff of magical realism. Alma Ben-Ami doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of the contemporary religious Jewish girl in New York: with a healthy dose of sass and spunk, she confidently claims her religious observance while taking risks to forge an independent path and fulfill a mission passed down through the centuries by the women in her family. She partners in this effort with a young Spanish student with his own family mysteries to solve; add to the mix the fact that he is a Catholic considering the priesthood, and the plot complications multiply. Moving back and forth in time throughout the novel, Levy respectfully navigates the sensitivities of religious boundaries, the delicacies of falling in love, the demands of family honor and loyalty, and the complicated history through which the generations of characters in the book travel. She evokes the rich legacy of Sephardic Jewish Spain, leading her young characters to meaningful, life-affirming answers. A well-researched and engaging debut, By Light of Hidden Candles is an enchanting read.