“My El Mochito Sephardim from Northern New Mexico” by Jo Roybal Izay. Printed by Creative Space

Review by Richard B. Edwards

This novel is about a family named Benavidez living in a mountainous village in norther New Mexico during the mid-20th century. They refer to themselves as Sephardic Jews, descendants of emigrants who fled the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and in Mexico City in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The family, after some 400 years, still observes certain Jewish rituals and practices that have been combined with Hispanic mores. And their language reflects a mix of Hebrew and Spanish, which is known as Ladino.

The book is a remarkable account of how this family exemplifies the integration of Roman Catholic and Hebrew traditions over four centuries.

Among the several contrasting and comic characters is a father who is an inveterate gambler; a mentally challenged elderly man called El Inocente, who like a child – and like Shakespeare’s court jesters (see “King Lear”) always speaks the truth in sometimes ironic but always in most amusing ways; and a mother whose tough-mindedness and franks tries to keep this dynamic family in line.

There are several particularly comic vignettes told by the characters that are wild adaptations of certain Bible stories sprinkled with Ladino and northern New Mexico colloquial words and phrases. The biblical adaptations range from Adam and Eve, Moses and Elijah plus the Navajo creation story and the arrival of Christopher Columbus. They are all very funny.

A help for the reader is a dictionary of Ladino/Spanish/English translations at the back of the book.

The novel is entertaining and educational. It is, in fact, a delightful fictional model for integrating New Mexico’s cultural and religious aspects.

Richard Edwards is a longtime Albuquerque resident and polyglot.

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