Secrets in the House of Delgado

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Secrets in the House of Delgado book coverWhat the Book is About:

Eleven-year-old Maria Sanchez’s entire family died in an epidemic in Spain in 1492 and now she is completely alone in the world. Her priest, Fra Adolfo, finds her a position as a lady's maid for the impetuous and friendly Angelica, beloved daughter of the Delgado family. Maria is expected to carefully observe and report any signs of Jewish ritual in the Delgado home to Fra Adolfo. (Since the Delgado family became Conversos over one hundred years earlier, when they were forcibly converted to Christianity, the Church suspects them of not being “true” Catholics.) The Delgado family treats Maria kindly and she begins to develop romantic feelings for Angelica's older brother, Juan Pablo. When Juan Pablo becomes betrothed to someone else, Maria denounces the family to Fra Adolfo, but later regrets her actions and helps the family escape Spain and the Inquisition.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Spanish Jewry: The book’s foreword, called “About the Story,” explains the historical setting of Spain in 1492, including details about the expulsions and forced conversions of Jews at that time.
  • Treating employees kindly: Maria arrives at the Delgado home a defenseless orphan and she is treated with kindness: Dona Elena even buys her a beautiful new dress for church. Jewish law mandates that employers must treat their employees fairly by paying them on time and by making sure they have decent working conditions.
  • Teshuva (repentance): After Maria denounces the Delgado family to Fra Adolfo, she realizes that she has made a mistake and apologizes to Juan Pablo. She later redeems herself by finding passage for the Delgados aboard her uncle’s ship so that they can escape.

Positive Role Models

  • Maria, the narrator of the story, makes a terrible mistake by betraying her employers, who always treated her fairly. She later regrets her actions and does her best to make amends.
  • Juan Pablo treats a sick Jewish child at considerable personal risk. When Maria confesses her betrayal to him, he is quick to forgive her.
  • Angelica’s affectionate nature welcomes Maria as a friend and confidante despite the fact that Maria is Angelica’s servant.

Content Advisory

During the Inquisition, Spain was a dangerous place to be Jewish or of Jewish descent. There are a few allusions to torture and death by auto da  (public burning at the stake) that might be challenging for some young readers and in one scene Maria and Angelica are attacked in the city while pretending to be Jewish.

Talk it Over

Maria makes a mistake in betraying the Delgado family. Why does she do it? When she realizes the consequences of what she has done, she works to make it better. Have you ever done something that you regretted? Can you think of another story where the main character works hard to fix a mistake, or helps someone whom they caused harm to?

More For You

Treating employees kindly is not only a nice thing to do, it’s a commandment from the Torah based on a passage from Deuteronomy (24:14-15). Employers are mandated to be extra sensitive in their treatment of hired laborers – they are responsible for making sure that their employees are well taken care of and receive their earnings in a timely manner during the day, when they can still use the money to purchase necessary goods.

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