Title: The Forgetting River
Author: Doreen Carvajal
Release Date: August 16, 2012
Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction, Travel
Rating: 4 out of 5
Doreen Carvajal is a journalist who was born and raised Catholic, so she’s surprised to discover her family may be connected to conversos, Jews who converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Intrigued by this lost piece of personal history, Carvajal travels to a small city in Southern Spain to try and uncover her family’s true heritage.
The Forgetting River is part travelogue, part history, and part memoir. Carvajal frames the book as her search for her family’s roots, but it’s more than that. It’s not just about what Carvajal is looking for and what she learns; instead, it’s about the journey, the sights, smells, and sounds that Carvajal experiences. The stories she hears while traveling. The author brings her journey to life for the reader with vivid descriptions as she investigates the lingering effects of the Inquisition on Spanish culture.
Carvajal’s writing really makes The Forgetting River worth reading. It’s absolutely gorgeous; she takes her time with her details and ensures that the reader can picture the narrative vividly in their head. Her words soothe the soul, flowing beautifully; it’s clear that writing is a balm that gets her through her more difficult discoveries. It’s wonderful to be able to share that with the author, especially because she relates it so beautifully.
Where The Forgetting River is difficult, though, is in its structure. It doesn’t really have narrative cohesiveness, instead it comes across as a series of vignettes. They jump across time and continents and are almost a series of linked essays, rather than a single thread of narration. It can be frustrating to read at times, especially for readers who were initially drawn to the book because of its detective-esque premise. This is a slow read, and Carvajal takes her time with her search. It makes for a contemplative read which, as I’ve said previously, is more about the journey than the destination.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful book about the connections among family, history, culture, and religion, this is a great choice. It’s not amazingly fast moving, but readers who enjoy a slower pace will fall into Carvajal’s beautiful writing style and wonderful descriptions. If you’re looking for a change of pace with your book club, Carvajal’s thoughts and observations would make for a great discussion.