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Emily Colbert Cairns

Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora

Queen of the Conversas

Palgrave Macmillan 2017

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & Faith January 23, 2020 Elizabeth Spragins

Emily Colbert Cairns’ book, Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora: Queen of the Conversas (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), traces the biblical figure...

Emily Colbert Cairns’ book, Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora: Queen of the Conversas (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), traces the biblical figure of Esther, the secret Jewish Queen, as she is reinvented as the patron saint for the early modern Sephardic community. This hybrid globetrotter emerges repeatedly in dramatic texts, poetry, and even visual representation in the global Sephardic diaspora on the Iberian Peninsula, Amsterdam, and New Spain. Colbert Cairns argues that Esther’s female body emerges as a site for power struggles and symbolic territory for drawing constantly moving communal boundaries. While certain early modern representations of Esther mobilize this queen promote traditional values for proper female behavior (obedience, deference to male authority, beauty), Colbert Cairns shows that Esther’s identity exceeds facile notions of national, ethnic, or racial identity and instead opens out a sense of Sephardic difference beyond geographical boundaries.


Elizabeth Spragins is assistant professor of Spanish at the College of the Holy Cross. Her current book project is on corpses in early modern Mediterranean narrative. You can follow her on Twitter @elspragins.