The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
By David I. Kertzer
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679768173, 368pp.)
Publication Date: June 30, 1998
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National Book Award Finalist
Bologna: nightfall, June 1858. A knock sounds at the door of the Jewish merchant Momolo Mortara. Two officers of the Inquisition bust inside and seize Mortara's six-year-old son, Edgardo. As the boy is wrenched from his father's arms, his mother collapses. The reason for his abduction: the boy had been secretly "baptized" by a family servant. According to papal law, the child is therefore a Catholic who can be taken from his family and delivered to a special monastery where his conversion will be completed.
With this terrifying scene, prize-winning historian David I. Kertzer begins the true story of how one boy's kidnapping became a pivotal event in the collapse of the Vatican as a secular power. The book evokes the anguish of a modest merchant's family, the rhythms of daily life in a Jewish ghetto, and also explores, through the revolutionary campaigns of Mazzini and Garibaldi and such personages as Napoleon III, the emergence of Italy as a modern national state. Moving and informative, the Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara reads as both a historical thriller and an authoritative analysis of how a single human tragedy changed the course of history.
David I. Kertzer was born in 1948 in New York City. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986, he has twice been awarded, in 1985 and 1990, the Marraro Prize from the Society for Italian Historical Studies for the best work on Italian history. He is currently Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science and a professor of anthropology and history at Brown University. He and his family live in Providence.
"A thrilling history... Kertzer's careful scholarship and fine narrative skill make a great drama."- Boston Globe
"A lucidly drawn, dramatic narrative. Kertzer's account reads like a courtroom drama. As shapely and surprising as fiction."- Newsday
"Brilliant... a book that has all the merits of a historical thriller."- Daily News