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Richard Zimler
Author of Guardian of Dawn (which is set in Goa)
His bestseller, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is published in 20 languages.

Richard Zimler - Guardian of the Dawn

Review by Jessica Mulley, November 2004

Published 27th January 2005 by Constable.
400pp. ISBN 1845291917

Richard Zimler bibliography:

  • Unholy Ghosts
  • The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon
  • The Angelic Darkness
  • Hunting Midnight
  • Guardian of the Dawn
About Richard Zimler

Born in Manhasset, New York, Zimler now lives in Porto, Portugal and lectures at the University of Porto. In addition to his novels, he is the author of more than 20 short stories and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Fiction in 1994.

I don't read historical fiction. It just doesn't hit the right buttons for me. That is, until I read Richard Zimler's latest novel, The Guardian of the Dawn. As soon as I'd finished reading The Guardian of the Dawn, I read it again. The next thing I did was buy a copy of each of Zimler's previous novels.

The third instalment of his 'Sephardic cycle', following the bestselling The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and Hunting Midnight, which loosely traces Jewish experiences of persecution through the lives of different branches and generations of the same family. Set in early 17th century Goa, at the time a Portuguese colony, The Guardian of the Dawn is a provocative tale of vindictiveness and revenge. It is also a thumping-good mystery.

Living just outside the boundaries of the Portuguese colony, the Zarco family cautiously adhere to their Jewish traditions and beliefs, avoiding the attention of the Portuguese authorities and the cruel Inquisition. Retold through the voice of Tiago, he and his sister Sofia enjoy a gentle childhood under the care of their loving but troubled father, at times secretly dipping their toes into the Hindu celebrations honoured by their beloved cook, Nupi.

The family is torn apart as first their father, and then Ti, are arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Inquisition. Resisting conversion to New Christianity, Ti serves many years exiled in the prisons of Lisbon. He returns to India to pursue an ingenious, dangerous plan for revenge against those responsible for his exile but his plans, and convictions, disintegrate as it become apparent that the source of betrayal is much closer to home.

Moody, atmospheric and at times ink-black with pain, Zimler's writing conjures vivid pictures of Portuguese Goa, of imprisonment and of personal devastation, which combine to produce a mystical, exotic mystery with a deeply-rooted sense of place and purpose and one which rewards on many levels. It is a real treat.

The historical mystery genre is littered with derivative, second-rate plots and caustic prose - so much so that it seems misleading to place The Guardian of the Dawn on the same shelf. Guardian of the Dawn has none of these faults: it is historical fiction at its dazzling best.
© Jessica Mulley, 2004
Jessica Mulley is a House of Commons Clerk and occasional reviewer for The Virtual Bookshelf

Visit Richard Zimler's website for biographical details, more reviews of his novels, and a complete short story

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