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debt of tamar book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Every life tells a story. While we may feel our story is a novel, it may really be a chapter in a much bigger drama that extends beyond our lifetime. In her tale, The Debt of Tamar, Nicole Dweck captures a sense of how our lives and the ways we live have the opportunity to impact others long after we are gone. Using a narrative that covers several centuries, the story begins in the 16th century with a wealthy family forced to flee Spain during a time when being a Jew was a crime. Having practiced her faith secretly for many years, Dona Antonia realizes that the time has come for her and her daughter and nephew to flee before they are discovered.

Upon arriving in Istanbul, the cousins Reyna and Jose discover they have fallen in love. They are married and blessed with a daughter, Tamar, whom they raise in the Jewish faith. When she falls in love with a Muslim prince, her father sends her away to prevent a marriage outside their faith. By all accounts the two young people never saw each other again. Before their separation, the young prince, Murat, gave Tamar a ruby ring that would be passed down from generation to generation. Brokenhearted, he believed himself cursed and passed that down to every sultan after him.

Dweck’s novel winds through history following the family from Spain and Istanbul to Israel and into France. From the Ottoman Empire to the Holocaust and beyond, the reader follows the story of Murat and Tamar’s genealogy until they become inexplicably connected in a hospital room in the United States when the ruby ring brings two people together and reunites a family story. Across time and geography, this connection brings a sense of peace and resolution.

While I enjoyed the story of Tamar and Murat and their families, I felt like the story swept through history in a way that left too many loose ends. The historical elements were under developed but were significant in how the reader understood the story. Because it jumped forward, there were some elements that were confusing or felt rushed. Simply adding transitional pages with historical information between chapter jumps in the story would have made it easier to understand. All in all, the story was interesting and would appeal to an audience with an appreciation for history.


Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.