Sherry Ostroff's Caledonia
Two timelines. Two women. One DNA. Scotland. “It’s just a lot to take in, like connecting the dots, except these are three-hundred-year-old dots.”
Tragedies tie the two lines together. The Spanish Inquisition and the terrorist attacks on September 11. Sherry Ostroff explained why she put both events in her novel. “I chose 9/11 because I thought it would spark some interest - how could an event in the 21st century leads to the discovery of an ancient ancestor from the 17th century.”
The persecution of Jews by the Spanish Inquisition included expulsion from Spain and later Portugal, confiscation of property, torture and burning at the stake, the auto de fé. Many Jews, like Anna’s family, continued practicing Judaism in secret for 300 years. Hanna, in the 21st century, has taken for granted her family’s traditions: lighting a candle on Friday night or abstaining from pork. Her father’s death during the 9/11 terrorist attack of the Twin Towers sets into motion a revealing of the history of her family, from hiding their Judaism in Spain to escape to Scotland.
Caledonia has many ties between the two-story lines: disagreeable brothers; an absence of mothers or lack of a warm, nurturing mother; strong Scottish male love interest with no prejudice towards Jews; and two tough, independent women in Anna and Hanna.
The history of the attempted settlement of Caledonia, the Darien Scheme, in the New World is not well known and fascinated Sherry. “I love history - period. But lately, since 2014, I have had a particular interest in Scottish history. I chose this event, the Darien Scheme, because…I had never heard of it and most people I asked, including history teachers, history buffs, and the Scots themselves, knew nothing about it. …[A] mostly forgotten, exciting, riveting, historical event is an historical novelist's dream.”
The terrible condition of the sea voyage, its hazards, problems with food, illness, storms and pirates, were only continued on land, with this poorly planned and politically opposed colony where sickness killed most of the colonists.
Tragedy is in both time periods: death and destruction; loss of family; and fear and a lack of security. It reminds us that there is not any era in which these kinds of events are absent. The characters’ reactions show us how different centuries grappled with tragedy. I asked Sherry about this.
“A few months ago, I met with a local book group. One of the questions that was posed to me at the end was will humanity ever learn. My answer was no. We humans have short memories and are never mindful of the phrase - history repeats itself.” Sherry meets with many book groups, in person and with Zoom. These meeting reveals what her characters already know—happiness and tragedy, love and loss, occur in every era, every country, every family.
Sherry commented on the life and death situation that Jews have lived through or are experiencing now with the rise of bigotry throughout the world, how hatred towards Jews is called the “oldest hatred.” Hanna experiences this hatred even in the 21st century. She also experiences what is a most poignant part of the Caledonia and how they morphed during the centuries observance was pushed underground. When she lights Anna’s candlesticks and blesses the lights, she performs an act that could have brought death to her ancestors and brings understanding and light to her own family. The forthcoming sequel to be published in April 2021 to Caledonia, Mannahatta, continues Anna and Hanna’s stories. These books are perfect for a book club--and Sherry will zoom right in to share her insights! Click her photo for info on her website.
In the forthcoming Mannahatta, a Jewish New Year feast is described, with many Sephardic (Jewish-Spanish) recipes. Scents of cinnamon and cumin waft through the air and I developed a Cinnamon-Cumin Chicken recipe that Anna would have approved of!