Vox Tablet

Reporter Digs Up Converso Past

New York Times writer Doreen Carvajal goes to Spain to understand why her ancestors hid their Jewish roots

July 30, 2012
The Carvajal family, c. 1931.(Courtesy Doreen Carvajal)
The Carvajal family, c. 1931.(Courtesy Doreen Carvajal)

Doreen Carvajal was raised Catholic and had no occasion to question her religious or cultural heritage growing up. Even when she became a journalist (she’s currently a European correspondent for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune) and readers, seeing her byline, wrote to tell her that her last name was a common Sephardic Jewish name, she remained incurious. It took moving to Arcos de la Frontera, an ancient town in Andalusia, Spain, for her to finally confront the likelihood that her ancestors were conversos—that is, Spanish Jews who 600 years ago converted to Christianity rather than face death or exile during the Inquisition.

In a new memoir, The Forgetting River, Carvajal describes her search for definitive answers to questions about her identity. That search took her to Costa Rica, university archives and genetic specialists, frontier towns in Spain, and her own cache of forgotten memories and keepsakes. She speaks with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about what she found out. [Running time: 17:30.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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