Shelf Awareness, USA
“Portugal is justly famous for many things – castles, beaches, Fatima, romantic language, exploration, fado music, cod, port, Christopher Columbus . . . back up. Christopher Columbus? Not so much? If José Rodrigues dos Santos has his way, with the publication of Codex 632: The Secret Identity of Christopher Columbus, Columbus will no longer be considered Italian, but Portuguese; in fact, a Portuguese Jew.
Who knew that a big debate on Columbus’s nationality began around 1892, and forged documents were produced to back up Spanish and Italian claims? Italy won the PR battle, partly by insisting that the two competing Columbuses were the same man. But how did a lowly Genoese silk weaver become an educated navigator versed in cosmography? Or, even more difficult, marry into Portuguese nobility? Why did he write in Castilian, Latin and Portuguese, but use a translator for Tuscan or the Genoese dialect? Even more provocative are the clues pointing to his being Jewish or a Marrano, a Jew pretending to be a Christian. His signature was kabbalistic. He used astronomical tables written in Hebrew. The crew on his voyage to the New World included 40 Genoese, at a time when “Genoese” was code for Jewish. And why did he set sail in 1492? He was working for King John II, to throw Spain off the track in the competitive search for a sea route to India. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world between Spain and Portugal, and India was the sought-after crown jewel.
A bestseller in Portugal (where it beat out Harry Potter), Santos’ book is more a novel about history and interpretation than a thriller. The codes and the mystery are a framework for discoveries, ours and the voyagers’. José Rodrigues dos Santos has written a book that fascinates and informs as well as entertains; it’s also a mini-travelogue of an incredibly beautiful country.”