Simon Schama’s Belonging: 1492-1900, the second volume of his panoramic study of Jewish life, The Story of the Jews, is in fact an account of serial exile ...book begins around the time of the Spanish Inquisition and ends with the Dreyfus case, a 400-year round trip back to the same Jewish question ... Belonging is not, then, an ironic title. It was the core dilemma of the Jews across these four centuries. It was their constant quest (and equally constant worry), neither quite attainable nor, it seemed, definitively out of reach ...a remarkable storyteller. His approach is cinematic. He sets scenes with great vividness and writes, from street level, with an unflagging verve ...cascading, virtuoso narrative. The effect is kaleidoscopic, if occasionally disorienting ...is a riveting picture, gorgeously rendered, of the stubborn, argumentative miracle of Jewish survival against the odds.
...Simon Schama’s latest book, The Story of the Jews, Volume Two: Belonging, 1492-1900, will be a revelation. It is an engaging and electrifying read by a skilled literary craftsman, cultural historian and tour guide, traveling through 500 years of history to such far-flung places... Schama enchants his readers by introducing colorful characters worthy of a Charles Dickens novel, if Dickens had decided to focus on the not-so-great expectations and bleak houses of the Jewish diaspora ...with the art and alchemy of an adventure novel. Dashing between nations and centuries, Schama assembles an all-star team of largely unsung Jewish heroes who inject humanity and spunk into what might otherwise have been morbid tales of endless persecution ...weaves a tapestry of interlocking themes that illuminate the advances and setbacks of life in the diaspora.
Schama’s great gift as a historian is his ability to tell the big story through the individual stories of remarkable people like Beatriz and Brianda ... As Schama recounts David’s fantastic, sometimes hilarious, ultimately doomed journey, he paints a vivid picture of the hazardous lives and messianic longings of the Jews of Europe, and the gullibility, perfidy, and greed of their rulers. As expected, Volume II is a thoroughly engrossing, worthy sequel to Volume I. But, also as expected, it is not a happy story.