"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

Monday, July 4, 2011

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

I thank my book club once again for forcing me to expand my reading to include those selections that don't automatically, as a force of habit, find their way to my hands and heart. When the selection was announced I heard my literary wicked witch shouting her garbled protest as she melted in a pool of hyped up fiction propelled by the insinuated intellectualism of an uninspired scholar/historian/theorist/philosopher. I heard this book screaming "Oprah's Book Club" and Oprah selections most often directly translate into eye-bleeding experiences for me. (Forgive me, Steinbeck, of course I'm not referring to East of Eden, despite the fact that it bears the obnoxious 'O'. You know how I feel about you... I'll never believe that you deserve Oprah's mark upon your work). 
By Fire, By Water is a work of historical fiction taking place during the Spanish Inquisition and Kaplan proves that he is neither hyped up or uninspired, but a worthy historian, after all. This time-worthy saga chronicles one man's struggle with his own belief system and his desire to take an intellectual approach to faith in a time when even the appearance of spiritual ambivalence meant death-or worse. 
The difficulty with By Fire, By Water is the slow start. There are a lot of players to sort out and very little 'story' to cement them together for the first half of the novel. After the half-way point everything begins to come together but getting that far is a struggle. Upon reaching the conclusion of this unique tale I was satisfied for the most part, but was left wanting a hero. I kept waiting for something wonderful and dramatic to come out of the main character but he continues plodding along in the shadows avoiding the detection of the Inquisition's driving forces. This, of course, is the only way he could survive, but you find yourself wishing that his inner Chuck Norris/MacGuyver would come bursting out, buttons popping, and deliver a little much needed retribution. A compelling novel all the same; I will continue to seek the work of Mitchell James Kaplan.

You will find an official description of the plot line at: 

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