By Marianna Birnbaum
It is easy to come under the spell of Gracia Nasi or Gracia Mendes, as Marianna Birnbaum
prefers to call her.
brings the reader insight into the skill and effectiveness of Gracia Nasi as businesswoman, philanthropist and patron of publishing, going beyond existing studies in English.
The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes , however, goes beyond in detailing La Señora's acumen as gifted businesswoman, who, as CEO of the banking and trading firm that dominated the spice trade, used effective economic leadership skills to bring the House of Mendes to new heights of prosperity.
An example is the chapter "In Business with Ragusa," in which the author describes a contract negotiated by Doña Gracia for her
firm with the port city, now called Dubrovnik, so fortuitously positioned between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.Elsewhere, Dr. Birnbaum's
expertise in the political economy of the period enhances the reader's comprehension of the banking and trading of the day, with information such as the relative values of period currency and products traded.
also takes care to present the background to the events she
or example, Chapter 2, "A Short History of the Conversos," describes in full the issues faced by New Christians and their origins.
is important if one is to appreciate fully the challenges confronting someone of this background, very much in the public eye, on a seventeen-year odyssey to a destination that must be kept hidden as long as possible.
he same attention is given to a wide-screen picture of the Ottoman Empire, necessary if one is to understand the environment that served as stage for the daring political actions and spiritual dreams of Doña Gracia's later years.
scholarship is artfully combined with her
writer's understanding that readers need more than a chronological recounting of events for the true picture to emerge of personages and periods long gone.
MARIANNA D. BIRNBAUM taught Hungarian and Central European literature and culture at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is Professor Emeritus.
he also serves as visiting professor at Central European University, Budapest, in the Medieval Department.
OLORES SLOAN spoke on Doña Gracia at SCJS's
er articles on La Señora have appeared in HaLapid, which she