By: James Hutson-Wiley
Published by: New Generation Publishing
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
Review Date: March 20, 2023
Author and scholar James Hutson-Wiley presents the third segment of his saga set in Europe and the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, fleshing out cultural and religious ambience through the eyes of a young Jewish man, Joshua Ben Elazar in his newest book, The Merchant From Sepharad.
Joshua’s tale, told in first person, begins when, at age eighteen, he is sent from Sepharad (Iberia, or Spain) by his father, a successful merchant, to start a new business in Lishbunah (Lisbon, Portugal). He is given a stash of gold ornaments to present to his contact, Essua, to form the groundwork of the enterprise. Arriving in the port city, he gets an introduction to adversities to come: because he is a Jew, the customs official seizes his gold and informs him he must pay an entry fee to reclaim his goods. Essua and others assure him that this treatment is standard for those of their religion.
The attempt to recoup his loss is the beginning of a lengthy journey that will take Joshua ever farther from home, becoming involved in what seems a justifiable killing, raising the religious and philosophical quandary of vengeance. He will see firsthand the evils of slavery, again forcing him to question some beliefs common at the time. He observes the differences that run deep between his Israelite family and those of Muslim, or Ishmaelite, faith, and begins to comprehend the beliefs of Christians as well. Joshua seems doomed to fail at commerce, but he excels in scholarly pursuits. Advised by a rabbi to study religion, he must learn Hebrew script, making a deep study of both Torah and Talmud. His travels continue, resulting in meeting a beautiful young woman named Hannah, and further entanglement in international and inter-religious intrigue. With help from allies including a giant former slave named Blazh, Joshua heads towards Yerushalayim – the Holy Land.
Hutson-Wiley pursued a career in international trade and finance that led him to many of the locales and cultures with which this book, and its predecessors, are infused. His writing combines a rich, pictorial imagination as well as diligently researched historical detail. He has appended a helpful Glossary of the many foreign names needed for the story’s authentic feel. Into his narrative he weaves such notables as the Jewish sage Maimonides, a child at the time when Joshua meets him. Joshua is a fully rounded character, berating himself for his failures as a merchant while modestly realizing aspirations as a student and teacher. Through a wide range of perils and triumphs, Hutson-Wiley’s hero remains faithful to family and spiritual vision.
Quill says: Hutson-Wiley has received awards for previous works leading to this addition to the collection, for which he is certain to garner yet more positive attention and praise.