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Across So Many Seas

Across So Many Seas

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Across So Many Seas

About the Book

"As lyrical as it is epic, Across So Many Seas reminds us that while the past may be another country, it's also a living, breathing song of sadness and joy that helps define who we are." --Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee

Spanning over 500 years, Pura Belpré Award winner Ruth Behar's epic novel tells the stories of four girls from different generations of a Jewish family, many of them forced to leave their country and start a new life.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, Benvenida and her family are banished from Spain for being Jewish, and must flee the country or be killed. They journey by foot and by sea, eventually settling in Istanbul.

Over four centuries later, in 1923, shortly after the Turkish war of independence, Reina’s father disowns her for a small act of disobedience. He ships her away to live with an aunt in Cuba, to be wed in an arranged marriage when she turns fifteen.

In 1961, Reina’s daughter, Alegra, is proud to be a brigadista, teaching literacy in the countryside for Fidel Castro. But soon Castro’s crackdowns force her to flee to Miami all alone, leaving her parents behind.

Finally, in 2003, Alegra’s daughter, Paloma, is fascinated by all the journeys that had to happen before she could be born. A keeper of memories, she’s thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about her heritage on a family trip to Spain, where she makes a momentous discovery.

Though many years and many seas separate these girls, they are united by a love of music and poetry, a desire to belong and to matter, a passion for learning, and their longing for a home where all are welcome. And each is lucky to stand on the shoulders of their courageous ancestors.

Product Details

On sale: February 6, 2024
Age: 10 and up
Grade: Grade 5 & Up
Page count: 0 Pages
ISBN: 9780593820841
Run time: 5 Hours and 53 Minutes

Author Bio

Ruth Behar (ruthbehar.com), the Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba, was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Her work also includes poetry, memoir, and the acclaimed travel books An Island Called Home and Traveling Heavy. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and other honors include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and being named a "Great Immigrant" by the Carnegie Corporation. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


"Readers will practically be able to smell the marzipan in Ruth Behar's beautiful new historical novel as they follow multiple generations of a Sephardic Jewish family starting from the Spanish Inquisition all the way to Miami, Florida. A layered, lyrical, and moving look at what we carry from our ancestors, not just from the important Sephardic Jewish lens, but for anyone inspired to make meaning out of the past." –Veera Hiranandani, author of Night Diary

“Four 12-year-old Sephardic Jewish girls in different time periods leave their homelands but carry their religion, culture, language, music, and heritage with them. . . . Woven through all four girls’ stories is the same Ladino song (included with an English translation); as Paloma says, ‘I’m connected to those who came before me through the power of the words we speak, the words we write, the words we sing, the words in which we tell our dreams.’ Behar’s diligent research and personal connection to this history, as described in a moving author’s note, shine through this story of generations of girls who use music and language to survive, tell their stories, and connect with past and future. Powerful and resonant.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* “Behar (Lucky Broken Girl) delivers a moving tale about four generations of a Sephardic Jewish family navigating cultural and societal upheaval from 1492 to 2003. . . . Divided into four parts, this enlightening read depicts one family’s determination to embrace and preserve her Jewish identity and offers glimpses into the long history of Jews in Spain. Behar crafts each included era with painstaking period detail and lush language, delivering a stunning portrayal of immigration and Jewish culture and religion that expounds upon the importance of remaining true to oneself, explores themes of prejudice and racism, and exposes the harm that bigotry can inflict on both individuals and society. The author includes English translations alongside songs and words in Ladino; concluding source notes add further historical context.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

* “This powerful historical novel by Behar relates the journeys and discoveries of four young girls from different generations of the same family. . . . Each protagonist embarks on a journey, whether fleeing persecution, searching for liberty, or discovering her past and her future. . . . The simple, resonant, and lyrical narrative transmits the hope and trust that have sustained Sephardic Jewish communities through the generations. Even the names of the title characters speak a blessing. Benevida means welcome; Reina means queen; Allegra means happiness; and Paloma means peace. An author’s note explains Behar’s connection to this important history. This moving historic tale treats every word used as if it is a fleeting and impossibly beautiful note in a song that can never be forgotten, as it illuminates a people and a past that deserves to be forever remembered. This will appeal to fans of Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, and is highly recommended for all collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“This welcome historical novel traces a Sephardic Jewish family whose members travel from one country to another with first-person narrators from four generations and spanning centuries. . . . This family saga provides glimpses of several moments in world history and gives readers opportunities to spot connections among the generations, sometimes knowing details about the past that the characters can only guess at. . . . An oud and a Ladino song add echoes from one section to another. The author’s note provides context and personal connections; back matter also includes source notes with accessible explanations.” —The Horn Book

“Behar's sprawling saga, based in part on her own family history, captures the poignancy of being expelled from one's home. . . . The return to Spain brings the story full circle and provides readers with a satisfying conclusion. Generous author notes are appended.” —Booklist

“With warmth, wisdom and poetry, Ruth Behar charts four girls separated by centuries and exile but linked by a shared past. As full of ache and sorrow as it is of joy and pluck, Across So Many Sea uses one family’s vivid journey to shine light on the serial displacements and rich, enduring culture of Sephardic Jews.” —Elizabeth Graver, author of Kantika
“Paths of milk and honey for this new book. It sings with poetry and history and story all at once. I enjoyed traveling and learning the path of the ancestors. ¡Felicidades! May our Dio guide this book and bring it many blessings.” —Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
“I’ve just finished Across So Many Seas and I’m sitting here still wiping tears but also smiling with gratitude at this big-hearted, intricate, loving meditation. What a beautiful book! I loved these four girls, and their tenacity and insistence on freedom, whatever the cost. And the threads of faith and tradition that bind them over 500 years. And the structure of this novel! By the time the stories intersect in Paloma’s story, I felt fully part of this indomitable maternal line.” —Ana Menéndez, author of The Apartment

"A shining gem of a book with an underlying theme of girls wanting to be heard through the ages." —Sonia Manzano, Pura Belpré Honor–winning author of The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano