HYANNIS, Mass. — Cape author Newton Frohlich will celebrate Columbus Day with the publication of a revised version of “1492, A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point” the 1990 historical novel he wrote about Christopher Columbus.
Columbus, of course, came upon North America while searching for a route from Spain to the East, with its pepper for preserving and other rich spices.
Why rewrite and republish a book about a story that happened more than 500 years ago?
“The cast of characters was the same in 1492 as it is today: Arabs, Christians and Jews – good and bad. The issues then and now are also similar: How can Muslims, Christians and Jews coexist in peace despite religious persecution, political leverage, and economic power?” Frohlich writes in his preface to the new edition.
Bluebird Publishing is putting out that edition Oct. 10 to coincide with Columbus Day.
In an interview at the Cape Cod Times, Frohlich explained his theory on why the story of Columbus is especially dramatic – and logistically important – right now:
“In 2015, Spain and Portugal each passed laws granting citizenship to descendants of the Jews expelled by Queen Isabella in 1492,” the lawyer-turned-author says.
Then came Brexit, the British vote to exit the European Union. Frohlich sees how the offer of citizenship in Spain or Portugal would be attractive to Jewish businesspeople in the United Kingdom who want to remain citizens of Europe – so they can continue trading there without paying tariffs on their goods.
It’s the kind of comprehensive thinking that drew Frohlich into researching original documents about Columbus in the first place. Frohlich and two partners had a thriving Washington, D.C., law firm in the ’60s, when a client came in who had constructed a replica of the Santa Maria, one of three boats Columbus commanded when he sailed West and discovered America. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination, and the subsequent unrest in Washington, dashed the model builder’s hopes of paying for the project with exhibition fees.
Frohlich’s research called forth a rarely used set of admiralty rules allowing the builder to auction off the replica to recover his costs and pay off any creditors. Frohlich got a $10,000 check from his client and “a two-volume set of books detailing the litigation Columbus and his heirs waged for over three hundred years to enforce his contract with the queen and king of Spain for his discovery of America,” Frohlich writes in his preface.
Frohlich noticed Columbus’ contract was signed within days of Queen Isabella’s proclamation giving the Jews 90 days to vacate, without taking anything valuable, an area where they’d lived for 1,000 years.
“As a lawyer, I never found a corporation that did two big things at the same time that were not related,” says Frohlich, who pulled back – and traveled the world – to look at the bigger picture, learning things he had never learned in history class.
(asterisk)(asterisk) Queen Isabella did not sell her jewels to finance Columbus’ journey. The money came from a converso – a Jew who converted to Catholicism – at least in name, under pressure – named Luis de Santangel. Santangel invested to free his family from persecution and get Queen Isabella’s promise that de Santangel’s nephew would not be prosecuted for shooting a member of The Inquisition.
(asterisk)(asterisk) Columbus and most educated people knew in 1492 that the world was not flat. The challenge, though, was to find a route that limited the amount of time a ship sailed against the wind as sailing into the wind made the journey take too long for the amount of supplies a ship could carry. Columbus figured out the route, commonly referred to now as the tradewinds.
Frohlich says these and other facts were in the documents and in history books, but still not known by the general public. After more than a decade of research, he sat down to write a historical novel that would put the facts into a colorful and compelling story.
Frohlich’s first book, 1971’s “Making the Best of It: A Common Sense Guide to Negotiating a Divorce,” a how-to in the early days of negotiated divorce, along with some wise investments, allowed him to start writing historical novels while living with his family in France and then Israel.
Frohlich’s “1492” led to his next book, “The Shakespeare Mask,” for which he spent 15 years immersing himself in that world. That book led to the one he is now working on now about George Washington’s last will and testament.
“I research and write slowly,” says Frohlich, 80, who lives with his wife, Martha, a musicologist, Martha, in Wellfleet. “My family teases me that I better hurry up a little with this one.”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com