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Publisher's Summary

Finalist for the 2020 National Jewish Book Awards

In this dazzling work of historical fiction, the Man Booker International long-listed author of War and Turpentine reconstructs the tragic story of a medieval noblewoman who leaves her home and family for the love of a Jewish boy.

In 11th-century France, Vigdis Adelaïs, a young woman from a prosperous Christian family, falls in love with David Todros, a rabbi’s son and yeshiva student. To be together, the couple must flee their city, and Vigdis must renounce her life of privilege and comfort. Pursued by her father’s knights and in constant danger of betrayal, the lovers embark on a dangerous journey to the south of France, only to find their brief happiness destroyed by the vicious wave of anti-Semitism sweeping through Europe with the onset of the First Crusade.

What begins as a story of forbidden love evolves into a globe-trotting trek spanning continents, as Vigdis undertakes an epic journey to Cairo and back, enduring the unimaginable in hopes of finding her lost children.

Based on two fragments from the Cairo Genizah - a repository of more than 300,000 manuscripts and documents stored in the upper chamber of a synagogue in Old Cairo - Stefan Hertmans has pieced together a remarkable work of imagination, re-creating the tragic story of two star-crossed lovers whose steps he retraces almost a millennium later. Blending fact and fiction, and with immense imagination and stylistic ingenuity, Hertmans painstakingly depicts Vigdis' terrible trials, bringing the Middle Ages to life and illuminating a chaotic world of love and hate.

©2020 Stefan Hertmans (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Extraordinarly good.... An astonishing take.... Hertmans conjures the medieval world with the same sensuous detailing that was so effective in War and Turpentine." (The Sunday Times London)

"Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care.... The book has a quiet intimacy to it." (Kirkus Reviews)

“[A] commanding historical novel...[that] will satisfy readers willing to be swept away into a starkly different time.” (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Convert

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Powerful novel

Greatly enjoyed this gripping story narrated by the incomparable Nicolas Guy Smith. I certainly learned a lot about a period of history that was little known to me.

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  • Phyllis
  • 2020-09-09

Half Spectacular Half Pointless

The fictionalized account of the convert was fascinating.

But the author’s ruminating and hand wringing as he retraced the convert’s possible route was silly and added nothing to the story. Worse, the author was just wrong about much of the Jewish context. A woman does not sign her own Ketubah and a widow who has not remarried need not go to the mikveh. Those are only two examples of egregious problems.

Exacerbating the problems was the narrator who butchered the Hebrew pronunciation. It was just awful.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Gita
  • 2020-04-15

I loved this book, but...

I loved this book. The story, stitched together from fragments recovered from the Cairo Genizah, is engrossing and moving. I very much enjoyed the interspersing of the narrator's recreation of the story with the story itself, and Nicholas Guy Smith's performance was, as in A Gentleman in Moscow, excellent. BUT, someone should have tutored Mr. Smith in the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew words in the book. At first it was kind of funny, but when names and words that appeared often were mispronounced it was mildly annoying. I don't blame Mr. Smith, but I think there should have been an editor who could have corrected the pronunciation.

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  • jane
  • 2022-01-18

story would be better with different narration

The story was good and I regret that I didn't read it . Listening to it probably didn't do it justice. The narrator was a bit too adenoidal. His reading was not exactly monotonous, but with almost every sentence in the book, his voice rises and falls in the same manner. The lack of variation in the reading really did make it to struggle to finish the book.

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  • John K.
  • 2020-03-04

Stefan Hertmans + Nicholas Guy Smith = *****

The sense of awe and wonder that Mr. Smith brings to Mr. Hertmans latest novel is extraordinary. The same can be said for War and Turpentine, the prior novel that introduced me to Mr. Hertmans. Mr. Smith also narrated/performed A Gentleman in Moscow, which truly brought that novel to life. Most definitely treat yourself to The Convert.

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  • Jane Doe
  • 2021-05-17

A padded mix of history and imagination

Never really got involved in either thread. The story of the convert was too removed and the story of the author’s research was too precious. Excellent reader though.

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  • stephanie L razzano
  • 2021-04-17

Great Book

Interesting and tragic story of a young girl who could have lived in any century. Loved the way the author juxtaposed the story with his research.

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  • Catherine
  • 2021-02-06

Captivating

Every aspect of this book was amazing. The narrative is beautiful; the history fascinating. This is among my all time favorites.

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  • REB
  • 2020-09-11

Unique Format

I enjoyed this unique format wherein the author's modern-era travel log interrupts the story, but am aware that some readers might find it distracting. Tracing the steps of history are exciting. The roads we travel, the hills we climb, the streams we cross might have played an important part of another person's life story many years ago. Fun to think about.