TITLE : The Secret Diaries Of Juan Luis Vives
AUTHOR : Tim Darcy Ellis
GENRE : Historical Fiction
FR RATING : ⭐⭐⭐( 3 Stars)
DATE OF PUBLISHING : August 3rd 2020
DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Netgalley and Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
The Secret Diaries Of Juan Luis Vives is a historical fiction centered around the Renaissance humanist Juan Luis Vives. The fascinating part of this novel is how deeply rooted it is in historical events. Also, the meticulous research the author has done comes through the book. I was excited to read this book about a historical figure who is a lesser-known personality to me.
The story, as I mentioned earlier, is based on the life of Juan Luis Vives, who is a notable scholar set in Belgium and England for the most part. The novel is in the form of diary entries giving the readers a glimpse into the significant events in Vives’s life. Vives had fled Spain in the wake of the Spanish Inquisition and is living life as a secret Jew. His family was new Christians, converts from Judaism, and because they were treated with suspicion, they had to be careful about their religious leanings and practices. Vives and his family were practicing Judaism in secret. A traumatic event in his life forces him to abandon his family and leave Spain in search of safety. He is tormented by guilt, and the weight of his double life often brings him down, causing him to make mistakes. He is offered the role of a tutor to Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII, and the Spanish Queen Catherine of Aragon. In London, he gets himself involved in secret with the Jewish community raising the internal conflict. The dangerous double life he leads threatens his stability in the King’s court. He finds himself involved in the divorce of the Queen, Catherine, and King Henry and having to betray one side. The choice in front of him is an impossible one, and we, as readers, get to see his indecision and uncertainty regarding the matter.
The story tells us Juan’s PTSD and how hard it was for him to leave his family behind. We, as readers, will get to see his internal struggle and his guilt. He is constantly torn between his safety and his need to protect and provide Jews with a safe world. The story also tells us the horrific atrocities committed towards the Jews and his family in particular. Those instances were hard to read, and I was appalled at the treatment Jews had to endure at the hands of Christians.
The book was interesting, and I was intrigued by Vives’s life. While I appreciated the importance of bringing to light the life of a lesser-known historical figure, I found myself not connecting with the character or the novel. The writing was a miss for me, as the style just didn’t work for me. This is more of a personal preference. The diary entries were designed to bring significant events in Vives’s life to the readers, and it does that wonderfully with Vives speaking to the diary about the important moments in his life. Also for me, the personality that shone through the pages didn’t come off as a scholar’s or a stable academic’s voice. Vives sounded like a confused and erratic person. I felt he was inconsistent at times and a bit of an eccentric. His writing came off as manic, with him always in a frenzied state of mind. His romantic connection with the two women in the novel, in my opinion, could have been developed better. The emotional connection he felt for them wasn’t clear to me, and how easily he got distracted from his goals during crucial moments was confusing.
I feel like, for me, the writing took away from his character. The events in the diary were not written to flow seamlessly, and I had a hard time focusing on the progression of his life. The little chunks of his life, while it gave us an insight into his life, I felt that it didn’t help with the continuity of the story. It felt as if I was plucked from one event and then plunged into another scene rather than navigating them in a non-disruptive manner.
Overall, I appreciate the effort and the research that has gone into writing this novel. I am unsure of some aspects and Vives’s relationships with some of the characters in the book. I feel this story needs to be read to bring awareness to who Vives was. It is important to know the history and the significance of the events mentioned in the book. If you love history and love to learn more about a lesser-known historical figure, you should pick this book up. I am giving the book 3 stars, and while it didn’t work for me the way I hoped it be, I still believe everyone should try it and decide for yourselves. I recommend checking it out and learn more about the humanist and scholar Juan Luis Vives.
It is 1522, The Spanish Netherlands, Juan Luis Vives, a renowned academic, has fled Spain to avoid the fires of the Inquisition, yet even here he is not safe. When England’s Sir Thomas More offers him the role of tutor to Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, he eagerly accepts.
While publicly navigating life as a ‘New Christian,’ Vives is quickly drawn into the secretive and dangerous world of London’s Jewish community. With a foot in each world, he is torn between the love of two women.
Inside the Tudor court, the king and queen separately seek Vives’s assistance to support their opposed demands. He must betray one to help the other, knowing his decision could cost him his life. Whom will he choose? Will his wily skills allow him to manipulate them both? Not only his survival but that of his family and his entire people hang in the balance.