BookBrowse Reviews Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris

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Gateway to the Moon

by Mary Morris

Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris X
Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 352 pages
    Mar 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Emily Isackson
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About this Book



Gateway to the Moon explores a dark portion of history and its effects on individuals and entire generations.

Miguel Torres is a teenager living in Entrada de la Luna, a poverty-stricken dot on the New Mexico map. Although his family and their ancestors have made the town their home for centuries, Miguel feels destined to leave. He studies the stars with his homemade telescope and aspires to be an astronomer.

Miguel also babysits for Rachel Rothstein, a Jewish artist from New York attempting to reestablish her family in the remote New Mexican desert. Soon Miguel notices parallels between his family traditions and hers: both light candles on Friday evenings and neither eats pork. Miguel begins to question his own upbringing and the many unanswered aspects of his life.

As the story of Miguel and Rachel unfolds in 1992, so does that of Luis de Torres in 1492 as the Spanish Inquisition instills fear in the Jewish population (see 'Beyond the Book'). Luis is a Crypto-Jew, one who converted to Catholicism but who continues to practice Jewish traditions in secret. He hopes to flee persecution by sailing with Christopher Columbus as an interpreter on his maiden voyage. The story of his descendants, who settle in the Spanish New World, is one of continued persecution as the Spanish Inquisition reaches Mexico. It is also a tale of continued adaptation as this family eventually lands in present day New Mexico, maintaining certain traditions while forgetting their meaning. What follows is a puzzle rooted in history and ancestry which charts the trajectory of a people displaced by historical events.

At times, Morris's research distracts from the story, adding what feels like unnecessary information. Other characters seem too conveniently placed alongside historical figures. For example, Luis De Torres sails with Christopher Columbus and Luis's grandson marches with the Spanish conquistador, Coronado. However, Luis is portrayed with deep emotions and desires; he is more than just another Jew fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. He regrets leaving his wife and two sons in Spain and longs to send for them in the New World.

At the heart of the novel, Miguel wrestles with his life in Entrada and the ever-present questions regarding his family, particularly how they "became stuck in this godforsaken place." Frequently, Miguel ponders the astronomical three-body problem: "How is it that the earth, sun and the moon exert gravitational forces on one another?" Miguel similarly feels three forces pulling him: his life in Entrada with his mother and father; an attraction to another world, the one Mrs. Rothstein inhabits, of the upper-middle class; and a third, the desire to travel to exotic locations.

As the stories across generations intersect, the novel traces the characters' roots and shows how they orbit the past with customs and rituals they no longer understand—like lighting candles and avoiding pork. And while the lives of many of Entrada's residents are inextricably connected to that of their displaced ancestors, the novel also emphasizes that they are not simply products of their past but that they can exert their own control for their future. This recognizes their agency and autonomy.

The metaphor of the three-body problem surfaces again extending to the past, present and future: the characters must contend with the force each exerts while balancing their interconnectedness in daily life. Whether it is Miguel's desire to leave the town in the future, or others' need to reconcile the past, the associated challenges must be addressed in the present.

Gateway to the Moon connects modern lives to distant ancestors, seamlessly navigating between centuries while addressing universal questions about our need to connect to our past while moving to the future. This novel reaches beyond history; it explores the humanity infused into everyday life, whether in 1492 or 1992.

Reviewed by Emily Isackson

This review was originally published in May 2018, and has been updated for the March 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Spanish Inquisition

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