Anything but Yes is the true story of a young woman’s struggle to defend her identity in the face of relentless attempts to destroy it. In 1749, eighteen-year-old Anna del Monte was seized at gunpoint from her home in the Jewish ghetto of Rome and thrown into a convent cell at the Casa dei Catecumeni, the house of converts. With no access to the outside world, she withstood endless lectures, threats, promises, isolation and sleep deprivation. If she were she to utter the simple word “yes,” she risked forced baptism, which would mean never returning to her home, and total loss of contact with any Jew—mother, father, brother, sister—for the rest of her life.
Even in Rome, very few people know the story of the Ghetto or the abduction of Jews, the story of popes ever more intent on converting every non-Catholic living in the long shadow of the Vatican. Young girls and small children were the primary targets. They were vulnerable, easily confused, gullible. Anna del Monte was different. She was strong, brilliant, educated, and wrote a diary of her experiences. The document was lost for more than 200 hundred years, then rediscovered in 1989. Anything but Yes is also based on Davidow’s extensive research on life in the eighteenth-century Roman ghetto, its traditions, food, personalities, and dialect.
Includes Italian to English glossary
Dear Ms. Davidow,
It was the cover image of a subdued looking woman and the title that got me. Who was Anna Del Monte and what could she not say “yes” to? Well, basically by saying yes she would have lost her identity, family, religion, way of life, and her soul. Other young women and children had been forcibly taken from the Jewish ghetto in Rome based on the belief or based on the lie that someone had heard a whisper of a murmur that this person might want to convert to Catholicism. Or a scorned suitor wanted to force a woman into a position to marry him. On that alone, armed sbirri would haul someone out of the ghetto usually never to be seen there again. Such a thing occurred to Anna – or Channa – Del Monte when she was an older teenager.
The book is a novelization of what happened to her based on the diary she wrote, at the urging of her older brother, afterwards. But in addition to telling her story, it offers a detailed glimpse of what life was like for Jews in Rome at the time. Increasingly harsh laws had been decreed by Popes in an effort to get Jews to convert. The Catholics viewed them as damned to hell for eternity and pulled out all the stops to save their souls while the Jews thought they were just fine. No thanks, but no thanks.
In educated Anna Del Monte, the best (well, actually the worst) minds that Roman Catholicism could throw at her failed. Learned men (though Anna mentally disputed their interpretation of religious stories) cajoled her, railed at her, threatened her, prayed over her, dumped (holy) water all over her cell, kept her awake day and night, sent in converted Jewish nuns to her cell to pray for hours at a time and then started all over again when they all got nowhere. Anna refuted their view of Biblical stories, refused to believe their statements that she was doomed to the eternal torments of the damned and steadfastly held to her beliefs. Meanwhile her family and the Jewish community leaders made every effort they could think of to get her out.
It is as much a historical novel about 1740s life in Rome as it is Anna’s story. Even a woman of her mental strength and conviction had to have suffered after what she went through. I would dearly love to know what happened to her in later life after she wrote her account of her kidnapping and attempted forced conversion but the way things are presented in the book sound reasonable to me. Anna was a force to be reckoned with and she did not say yes. B