Visitors to Valladolid, located north of Madrid, can follow a route through the city that is dedicated to sites associated with Cipriano Salcedo, a 16th-century merchant who was swept up in the fires of the Inquisition. Stations on the route include the old Jewish quarter, where the Salcedo family's warehouse would have been located, and the Plaza Mayor, where the auto-da-fé was held that condemned Salcedo and other presumed Protestant heretics. As they move among the remnants of Valladolid's former royal splendor, tourists can consider how Spain might have developed had the Counter-Reformation not been so successful in suppressing the nascent Protestant heresy--or what might have happened had there been more men like Salcedo.
There were people like Salcedo among those burned in Valladolid, but Salcedo himself is a fictional character in The Heretic, Miguel Delibes' 1998 novel, which was recently translated into English. Though little known in the U.S., Delibes is a member of Spain's Royal Academy and a winner, along with Vargas Lllosa, Cabrera Infante and Alvaro Mutis, of the Cervantes Prize.
Salcedo, born to wealth though not to the nobility, survives a loveless father, a mad wife and a liaison with his former wet nurse to develop into an astute and innovative businessman. Delibes' account of the Salcedo's vertical integration of the rabbit-coat industry--How many writers can boast of sustaining interest in a subject like that?--fleshes out Salcedo in much the same way that detailed manufacturing processes and financial transactions provide the background in Balzac's fictions. In terms of character, a contract can be as revealing as a seduction. Fortunately, this book has both.
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