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  Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen
author of ...

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes Jephte's Daughter Sotah (A Woman Under Suspicion) The Sacrifice of Tamar

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The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

(ISBN 068483393X, Simon and Shuster, 1998)

A wise and deeply moving story of one family's search for its Sephardic roots by the bestselling author of Jephte's Daughter. When Catherine da Costa, a wealthy Manhattan matron, learns she has only a short time to live, she realizes that the family tree will die unless she transfers its legacy to her granddaughters. But Suzanna and Francesca, beautiful young women in their 20s, have no interest in the past. Catherine almost despairs until, falling asleep before her fireplace, she is visited by the family matriarch, an indomitable Renaissance businesswoman named Hannah Mendes (a true historical figure), who offers her a partnership. Encouraging Catherine to use every trick in the book to coerce her granddaughters to journey across Europe, Hannah promises to reacquaint them with their roots through her own handwritten memoirs.
Buy your copy of The Ghost of Hannah Mendes from


A Magical Journey

Detroit Free Press

Readers' Comments

5 out of 5 stars Ragen's best book to date!
Finally, Naomi Ragen has written another book. Many of us have been waiting for any word of hers, and this book does not disappoint. I smile, I weep, I sigh, I remember; I am IN these pages. There is love and despair, hope and hopelessness, connection and rebellion -all woven together in a fascinating family story, set over hundreds of years from the Inquisition/Expulsion to the present. My only complaint is that Ms. Ragen doesn't write often enough!

4 out of 5 stars Restore your belief in Love, Angels, Faith, and Divinity
Even though this book focuses on the Jewish religion, it really has appeal to all faiths who hold their teachings to their heart. As a member of the Catholic faith, I even felt acute religious awareness while reading it, because of the connection between faith, and family. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and could not put it down after the first hundred pages. I would give it five stars except I felt that the author assumed the reader had too much knowlege of the Jewish faith and I wanted further explanation of some rituals.

5 out of 5 stars Great novel on the assimiliation of Jews in modern America
At seventy-four years old, widow Catherine da Costa learns she is dying from her doctor. As she wanders around Central Park, Catherine begins to wonder who should inherit her vast wealth that her deceased grandfather, late father, and her husband had accumulated and left to her. Her daughter and son-in-law would use the money to show off their wealth. Her granddaughter Suzanne would give it away. Her other granddaughter Fransesca would probably double its value. None of them would enjoy it.
In utter despair that the family heritage will die with her, Catherine receives a visitor in her sleep. A sixteenth century ancestor, Hannah Mendes will work with Catherine to help Fransesca and Suzanne find their lost heritage. Out of respect for their grandmother’s last wishes, the two sisters travel to Europe in search of Hannah’s manuscript. Soon, they meet appropriate males and Hannah begins to educate them as her story unfolds.
The two story lines (contemporary and Renaissance) blend brilliantly together due to the strong writing ability of Naomi Ragen. The characters are all realistic; they question how Jewish assimilation into the Big Mac culture of America is dealt with through various eyes. Readers will especially enjoy the sixteenth century manuscript as that story is incredible and feels like a real artifact. Anyone interested in well-written novels starring Jewish culture needs to try Ms. Ragen’s works (see THE SACRIFICE OF TAMAR, SOTAH and JEPHTE’S DAUGHTER) because they are fabulous, insightful tales.

5 out of 5 stars wonderfully moving, sincere and uplifting
This is a remarkable book that skilfully intertwines two stories: a contemporary tale about two modern rootless privileged young Manhattan women, and the story of their ancestor -- a sixteenth century businesswoman, possibly the richest women in the world, in flight from the Inquisition. The story takes the reader from New York to London, Venice, Spain. It's full of romance, adventure, humor and suspense. I was so sorry when the book came to an end and I had to let go of the characters.

4 out of 5 stars
In THE GHOST OF HANNAH MENDES, a dying Jewish matriarch is guided by the ghost of her ancestor in showing her two granddaughters how to appreciate their family and heritage.
I read an advance copy of this book and found it beautifully written and moving. As with THE SACRIFICE OF TAMAR, I could not put it down. The characters of Catherine and Hannah are mesmerizing as is the dizzying (and fact-based) family tree that they are descended from. While I found the characters of Suzanne and Francesca to be too extreme for believability, their journeys of self discovery ring true.
This book has many important and eloquent things to say about the complexities of family, and it does so by wrapping those lessons in a fascinating and luminous story. Make room for this one on your reading list .

5 out of 5 stars A captivating story of history, love, intrigue and family
Few authors can capture history, human emotion and romance as well as international bestselling author Naomi Ragen. In "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: A Novel", she expertly interweaves the tragic chronicle of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews with the spellbinding tale of Hannah Mendes, a true historical figure of unconquerable spirit and will, and the moving story of a modem American family in danger of losing its cherished heritage. As the story opens, Catherine da Costa, a wealthy Manhattan widow from a distinguished Jewish family, seems to have everything a woman could want including a beautiful home overflowing with expensive treasures, fond memories of a passionate marriage, two beautiful granddaughters, and a life filled with art, music, and culture. As Catherine learns that she has only a few months to live she receives an unusual, mystical visit from the family matriarch, a spirited Renaissance businesswoman named Hannah Mendes who makes Catherine realize that she has failed to pass on her family's rich heritage to her granddaughters Suzanne and Francesca, the last two leaves on the da Costa family tree. Caught up in their careers and social lives, the two young women have little interest in their grandmother, and even less in their family's history.
Guided by Hannah's spirit, Catherine convinces her granddaughters to seek their heritage. The girls embark on a magical quest that will take them across Europe and into their own past, a journey that changes their lives forever. Ragen's talent is endless as she moves between the present-day story of Catherine da Costa and her granddaughters, and the life of Hannah Mendes, which is told through the remnants of an ancient manuscript that has been scattered throughout Europe. Using bribery, guilt, and the threat of disinheritance, Catherine da Costa succeeds in convincing her granddaughters to leave their busy lives in New York to go to Europe in search of the lost pages of Hannah's memoirs. But Suzanne and Francesca soon become caught up in the exciting hunt for the manuscript and fascinated by the story of Hannah and her family. Of course, the story would not be complete without the handsome young men entering the scene in an astounding and unforeseen way to sweep both girls off their feet. The manuscript of Hannah Mendes is the most enchanting and illuminating part of the book. Hannah's story begins with her parents' expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition, and the family's perilous passage into Portugal where thousands of Jews hoped to escape religious persecution. Forced to publicly abandon their beliefs and made to convert to Christianity, Hannah and her family risk their lives to practice Judaism in secret. When her cherished husband Francisco dies at a young age, Hannah learns to run her family's thriving business. But their growing wealth and power cannot protect them from the brutality of the king, or the disturbing betrayal by a member of their own family. Hannah and her family are forced to escape to Antwerp, to Venice, and ultimately to Constantinople. Suzanne and Francesca discover Hannah's secrets as pieces of her journal appear in old bookshops across Europe. As they delve deeper and deeper into their search, and into Hannah's spellbinding story, eerie and baffling things begin to occur until in a final, perplexing encounter, past and present seem to blend into one. Ragen expertly blends a deplorable part of history into today's popular movement toward genealogy and tracing one's family heritage. Naomi Ragen is one of the best novelists of her time. Read just one of her books and you will anxiously await her next. The Ghost of Hanna Mendes is sure to top the charts.

5 out of 5 stars interweaves present fiction with true history
Naomi Ragen's recent novel The Ghost of Hannah Mendes kept me interested from beginning to end. The story focuses on the lives of the fictional descendents of the true historical figure, Gracia Nasi, also known as Beatrice DeLuna and Hannah Mendes. The love stories and intrigue that surround elements of the life of Dona Gracia follow a family of assimilated Jews as they try to reclaim their heritage and traditions. It also tells a story that nowadays is a common tale in the American Jewish community, that of a family previously lost to Jewish traditions reclaiming their place in the community.

More Readers Write ...

Seeing that you left your email address at the conclusion of your most interesting and fasination book on the lives of the Jews in Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition which was outstanding to say the least. It's really a understatement. Your book The Ghost of Hannah Mendes gives the reader an insight into the suffering of our nation throughout the ages, and although I am not from Sephardic heritage (as far as I know) I just felt I had to drop you a line.
I just returned from a week in Israel (not enough time), a UJA Mission where I started reading The Ghost of Hannah Mendes. Not only is it bueautifully written and filled with information that can motivate and educate, but it is so rightr on. I have tried to explain the connection that I feel with my heritage and tradition, and I have just been unable to muster up the words and the emotions. Your book is so full of ways to explain and to share. I thank you. What a beautiful and thought provoking experience. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada in the United States and am looking forward to reading your first three books. Again, thank you.
I just finished reading "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes" and am compelled to drop you this note. I have never enjoyed a book more than I have this one! As an avid reader I have read countless books, many I enjoyed but couldn't tell you who wrote it or what the name was if I had to, this one is one I will never forget! Thank you for your efforts in coomunicating to the rest of the reading world not only a beautiful and touching story but to pass on to those of us who have had no knowledge of what the Jews had to live with during that period of time.
Todah rabah for the wonderful "Ghost of Hannah Mendes". I began this adventure on my plane ride to Israel and completed it two weeks later in the Galilee. Of course, you must know how unbelievable that was since the ending is there. On my way back to Tel Aviv, we passed a road direction sign to Ha Nasi. I almost fell out of my seat. You helped make an unbelievably wonderful trip to Israel and to Hannah's past and future. Again, todah, todah.
This is just a fan letter and I feel honored to be able to tell you how much I enjoyed this book and all of your other books. For probably a year, I walked through bookstores hoping you wrote another book. So much hunger for knowledge and passion for reading makes me want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful novel. Wonderful escape from the trivalities of every day life and problems. Your gift of moving through time and having it all flow together, well let me just say, my family hasn't seen much of me for two days. You are a wonderful author and I look forward to your next book.
I have just finished reading "The Ghost of Hannah of Mendes" and the tears are still steaming down my face. What a wonderful gift. Somewhere in middle of reading this book I said to myself that I wish I could tell you how moving and touching, how warmly wriitten this book is. And then - there was your email address. Thank you once again for a really good read and I am eagerly awaiting your next novel.
Thank you so much for writing "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes". It's a beautiful book; I was moved to tears by it. I didn't discover until I was in college that I am a Sephardic Jew by right of blood, and that my grandmother's entire family was taken from Saloniki and killed at Auschwitz. I finally found out why I could never understand my grandmother's "bad Spanish"! It was Ladino! My mother had tried to hide our heritage, I think because she has always been afraid. I'll send a copy of your book to my mother! G-d bless you now and always.
Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your latest book "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes". I have read your three previous books, and enjoyed them very much, but feel that in Hannah Mendes you did much more than presenting a life story. You were able to bring to your readers an important piece of our history, which, otherwise, only few would have known. I hope that many people will have the chance to read the book. As I know that many of my friends wait to read your books after they are translated to Hebrew, I hope that you will soon have it translated.
It is such an honor and a pleasure to write to you. I just finished The Ghost of Hannah Mendes. I was so moved when I (finally) realized she was not ficticious! What a well-written, warm, inspiring novel. I have read all of your books that are available in the USA and I am anxiously awaiting your next book. I am at a loss for what to read until then. Can you suggest anything remotely as inspiring as your books? You've had such a positive influence in my life. I really enjoyed experiencing the different types of Jewish characters in all of your books and felt a kinship to each of them. (I only wish I had a Sephardic background!) Thank you so much for providing positive Jewish literature for so many people and for inspiring myself and so many others.
I just finished reading The Ghost of Hannah Mendes and felt compelled to write and tell you how much I loved this book. I am an avid reader and have read all of your books. I waited expectantly for this new one to arrive at the library. As a Jew I always enjoy reading books with a Jewish theme. I must tell you that I read this book in approximately twelve hours. Once I picked it up I really could not put it down. As a Jew who was born and raised in Canada by Canadian parents, it is always interesting to read of different aspects of our history as a people. This novel left me with such a magical, mystical feeling. I was brought up by a mother and grandmother who both felt that they had been visited by the spirits of past relatives. I was also left feeling that I really would like to know how Suzanne and Francesca lived out the rest of their lives. My husband and I have tried to rasie our children with a sense of the importance their past will play on their future and hope that this upbringing  will keep them within the Jewish faith. I thank you for this wonderful novel and can only say that I can't wait for your next one.
I am enjoying Ghost of Hannah Mendes immensely. I teach theology in a Catholic school to 12 year olds and our religion is based upon yours. You share your faith with us in your writings, like Sotah, too. Thank you.
I have "just" finished your unbelievable spell-binding novel. When I found your message with your e-mail address, had to immediately write you. There were moments I felt like Suzanne, then Francesca, then Catherine! Your book has made want to explore the books you used in your writings as I don't want this feeling of closeness I had with the people mentioned. I know this is fiction, however my heart is overflowing with the proudness of my heritage. What I really want to do is say thank you for this treasure!!! I amy add thank you for your other three novels--all throughly enjoyed and most of all, always a learning experience.
I am a member of Philadelphia Chapter of Hadassah. When I was told by my daughter that you have agreed to speak at our Healer Builder Creator donor dinner next spring, I immediately went to the bookstore and purchased The Ghost of Hannah Mendez. My daughter is one of the young leaders of Hadassah and she is organizing the donor event. She and I, both, are two of your biggest fans. We have read Jephte's Daughter, Sotah, Sacrifice of Tamar, and now, Hannah Mendes. This story was so very different than your others, and yet just as wonderfully written. When my husband spoke to me while I was reading, it was almost as if he had interupted my journey. It was so mystical that I felt as if I, too, saw the "lady." I was very sorry to have finished the much so, that, upon completion, I turned to the beginning and read it through again. To say I loved the book is such an understatement. I look forward to hearing you speak at this important event in Philadelphia, and I will certainly recommend your wonderful book to every one of my friends, relatives, and Hadassah sisters.
I'm a 14 year old girl who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. I've read all your books, and I wanted to tell you how much they influenced me. I read each and every one of them more then 3 times, and each time I cried and was amazed by the world who was so different from mine. Before I read your books, I didn't know much about religious people but i hated them. I don't know why but i just did.
After I read your book I started to see them in a different light. I didn't, and I still don't understand them, but I learned that there is a citron beauty in believing. The books thought me a lot about the world i didn't want to know about.
My favorite book is Jephte's Daughter. I read it more then 3 times in English and in Hebrew. I felt like I am Batsheva, even though we are so different. I really think you're a great writer. I am a senior in high school and in my AP English class we were assigned novel projects. Our teacher gave us a list of books to choose from and I had managed to narrow it down to Sotah and The Chosen. I asked my teacher what she thought and she recommended Sotah. I will admit that I looked at it with slight apprehension when I bought it at the bookstore, but within the first 50 pages I was hooked. I devoured it and loved every bit of it. You had me in tears for the last two chapters (including the epilogue) and I can't recall another book that has ever had that effect on me (no small feat, trust me). I have recommended your book to many of my friends, most of whom are not Jewish. You have a gift of being able to write a Jewish story with crossover potential, which is the very topic I am currently writing my critical essay on. I just wanted to tell you and that I look forward to reading your other two books, as well as The Ghost of Hannah Mendes and any more that follow.
I am a fan of yours having read your wonderful books. But I just felt that I had to write to you to tell you that no book has ever affected me more than "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes". I read this book in 48 hours due to the fact that I could not put it down. Being a Jewish woman I feel lost at times when my heart is not faithful to all that matters. I was awakend to the horrors and suffering that the Jews of Portugal went through during The Spanish Inquisition. Not being knowledgeable about it, I learned something through reading this book. Thank you so much for all your wonderful books, but also for writing something so wonderful as Hannah Mendes. Thank you for making me feel proud to be a Jew.
I have just devoured all four of your books in two weeks. They are so compelling I could not put them down, nor did I want them to end. Four years ago I was blessed to have visited Israel and fell totally in love with your country and the Jewish people. Your description of Israel in all your books brought so many wonderful memories flooding back to me. Thank you so much for the wonderful give of your books in my life. We truly all must realize the presence of God every minute in our lives.
Thank you for "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes." I have just finished reading this latest book of yours. It was very difficult for me to put it down. You opened up so much Jewish history in a relatively short novel. It moved me very much, so much that I had to write this first letter to an author of I have ever sent. So much history, so much tradition of a part of Judaism that I knew very little about. The relationships between the people were so real. Thank you again.
I study in the 10th grade in Ben Gurion high school in Petah Tiqwa. As a boy that likes literature and going to study literature teaching I wanted to say that if there someone who teached me to love literature, it was you and your wonderful books. Not only that I learned a lot about the haredim but also I understood their way of life. Your books are written in an interesting way that combine the plots and a lot of details about the life of the Orthodox communities.
Looking forward to your next book.
As an addicted reader, I always have a new book on tap, picking it up almost as soon as I've finished the current one. However, THE GHOST OF HANNAH MENDES made such a profound impression on me that, try as I might, over the pages of whatever I opened were Suzanne, Francesca, Catherine, et al. I cannot get them out of my thoughts and heart. What a marvelously moving and wonderfully written work. Thank you for it.
I love your books. When is the next coming? Soon, please. You are not afraid to expose certain practices, tendencies, intentions, and the horrible intolerance among our "religious" brethren. I only wish you did not have such subject matter to deal with. Unfortunately, our "dirty linen" is exposed to the whole world - Jewish (which should be revealed to us) and the non-Jewish (which is hurtful and embarassing). When will we learn to be mentschen, forgiving, tolerant, lovingly out-reaching and supportive of all Jews - especially the women, the mothers of our future. Right on, Naomi!
 I used to love to read as a child. Now, in my late 20's, I look back and see that the only books that I have picked up over the last decade are those that have lesson plan ideas. (I teach Kindergarten). Then, last Summer, a friend insisted that I read Jephte's Daughter. I was mesmerized. I could not put the book down, looking for every opportunity to read just a few more pages. This summer, I read Sotah, which captured me even more. (The Sacrifice of Tamar is next.) I think it only took a few days. I was so proud of Dina for straying from the only path she knew. How could she be sure that her life was right if not to explore other paths? She reminded me of myself at that same age. I was not raised in the same manner, but when I met the man of my dreams (who is now my husband), I knew somewhere deep in my heart that we were meant to be together. However, I was only 19 years old. We dated and fell in love, but I had to leave him for a while, date others and find that he was the one. I thank G-d every day for how much my husband loves me and how happy I am to know that I truly love him. I felt that I could relate to Dina in some way. I married him at 23, more sure of who I was and wanted to be. He had a chance to learn more about himself, which is equally important. Thank you for giving me a character that helps me only further justify my happiness. I thank you also for taking the time to read this, I apologize for the length of my words, but I just had to share it with the person that brought it out from within my soul. I am glad to hear that your stories are a success in Israel. I wonder, however, is there a woman in Meah Shearim who is brave enough to read your work? Are you considered as and author at all among the very religious?
I am curious to know.
I just finished you book! The rest of the house is fast asleep but I couldn't join them until I had read it all. The book was wonderful, I have enjoyed your others too. I've never written to an author before. When I saw the e-mail address I knew I had to write my feelings out to you. Thank you for writing such wonderful stories. I enjoy reading books with Jewish content, it gives me a connection and an understanding of who I am, where I'm going and from where I've come. I look forward to your next book. Thank You!
Thank you for your latest work, "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes." What an important message you have incorporated into this historically vivid, riveting novel! The story should be so instrumental in reviving or sustaining interest in our Jewish heritage, across varied sectors of society. For that message, as well as for the pure entertainment aspect of reading the tale of "Dona Gracia," I need to express my appreciation to you.
This tale clearly represents a great labor on your part, as well as an obvious love for your people. My thanks and gratitude ...


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Last modified: July 26, 1999