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Ruth Behar’s newest middle grade ACROSS SO MANY SEAS is an epic novel inspired by Behar’s Jewish family heritage, spanning 500 years and four different perspectives. From Spain in 1492 on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews, to Miami in the 2000s, ACROSS SO MANY SEAS is a novel that tells the stories of four Sephardic girls from different generations, united by their love of music and poetry and the longing for a home where all are welcome. 

Drawn from research and imagination, sorrow and joy, loss and resilience, this novel is a haunting journey into the passage of time and how personal and collective memory connects us to the past, allows us to live in the present, and gives us hope for the future.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, Benvenida and her family are banished from Spain for being Jewish and must flee the country or be killed. They journey by foot and by sea, eventually settling in Istanbul.

Over four centuries later, in 1923, shortly after the Turkish war of independence, Reina’s father disowns her for a small act of disobedience. He ships her away to live with an aunt in Cuba, to be wed in an arranged marriage when she turns fifteen.

In 1961, Reina’s daughter, Alegra, is proud to be a brigadista, teaching literacy in the countryside for Fidel Castro. But soon Castro’s crackdowns force her to flee to Miami all alone, leaving her parents behind.

Finally, in 2003, Alegra’s daughter, Paloma, is fascinated by all the journeys that had to happen before she could be born. A keeper of memories, she’s thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about her heritage on a family trip to Spain, where she makes a momentous discovery.

Though many years and many seas separate these girls, they are united by a love of music and poetry, a desire to belong and to matter, a passion for learning, and their longing for a home where all are welcome. And each is lucky to stand on the shoulders of their courageous ancestors.

ACROSS SO MANY SEAS was inspired by Behar’s paternal grandmother’s side of the family of Sephardic Jews living in Spain up until the Spanish Inquisition of 1492. Behar uses her background as an anthropology professor to make a thoroughly researched and powerful novel about religious persecution and how refugees have been treated throughout history.  On the writing process, Behar noted she had little material to work with: “I had only a vague idea of how my Sephardic grandmother made her way alone from Turkey to Cuba in the 1920s, bringing an oud with which to accompany her singing. I knew I wanted to merge these two stories, but wasn’t sure how it would all come together.” 

Buy a copy of ACROSS SO MANY SEAS Now

Book Details


  • Historical Fiction

Age Level: 

  • 8 - 12
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     Across So Many Seas by Ruth Behar follows the stories of tween and teenage girls in the lineage of a Spanish-Jewish family. Tracking the history of the Jewish culture within the Spanish-speaking community throughout the generations, the story sets the protagonists as Benvenida in 1492 Spain, Reina in 1923 Turkey, Alegra in 1961 Cuba, and Paloma in 2003 America.

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Historian Ruth Behar, inspired by her ancestors, tells the stories of four Sephardic Jewish girls in three vastly different time periods and locations.  As the story unfolds, the reader sees the intergenerational connections among these four distinct stories. Benvenida, along with her family, is facing expulsion during the Spanish Inquisition from the only home she has ever known. She leads the reader out of Medieval Spain on an arduous journey to 20th century Turkey, introducing Reina.

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