Book Review: Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica by Nathaniel Wyckoff (CreateSpace 2018)
Reviewed by Brenda Goldstein
Who knew that Jews sailed the seas as pirates – let alone a rabbi? Once again, Nathaniel Wyckoff takes little-known Jewish history and masterfully weaves it into a compelling story for both children and adults.
When asked about the inspiration for his latest book in the Peretz Family Adventures Series, Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica, Wyckoff says, “It’s a bit of a convoluted story.” A rabbi friend “recommended that I write one [a book] about Rabbi Shmuel Pallache, a.k.a. the ‘Pirate Rabbi.’ To whet my readers’ appetite for the Pirate Rabbi, I introduced him in Yaakov and the Treasures of Timna Valley as a distant relative of Leah Peretz and, consequently, her children.”
Set in futuristic 2025 and 2026, the Peretz Family Adventures Series features 12-year-old Yaakov and his family, along with their handy robots. This time around, Yaakov’s mother, Leah, gets invited by her former art teacher to participate in an art show in Jamaica. Never ones to pass up an opportunity for adventure, Yaakov and his siblings realize that this presents the perfect opportunity to search for the burial site of a precious family heirloom on the island, as well as that of Christopher Columbus’s fabled and much sought-after gold mine.
Of course, Yaakov and his family encounter no-good thugs who try to stop them, as in any good adventure. Wyckoff again shows his mastery of story-telling, leaving the Peretzes’ ultimate triumph over evil until the very end. As with all the books in the series, we meet a bunch of interesting characters, including quirky, evil villains who contrast starkly with the Peretzes and their strong sense of morality. This time, most of the characters have a distinctly Jamaican feel, and Wyckoff provides constant description of the island’s lush vegetation.
Originally from the San Fernando Valley, like the Peretzes, Wyckoff combines his technical knowledge, passion for Jewish history, and storytelling into thrilling, page-turning adventures for all ages. He spent many hours researching his topic. “While working on the third book in the series, Yaakov and the Secret of Acra Fortress, I dug for information on Rabbi Pallache,” Wyckoff says. “My searches led me to a fascinating work by Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. Although Kritzler’s book discusses Shmuel Pallache, it turns out that Rabbi Pallache never actually traveled to the Caribbean Sea. Still, my investigations and reading planted a seed.”
“Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean gave me a huge amount of food for thought,” says Wyckoff. He explains that the Kritzler book discusses Columbus’s gold mine in great detail, “and the historical accounts in the book are the types of things kids often love,” he says. Although no one actually found the gold mine, according to Kritzler, many searched for it, “including some Jews who were connected to piracy. So…what if my beloved fictional Peretzes went searching for it?”
Wyckoff also dedicated time to study how best to write for his prime audience: children. With each book in the Peretz Family Adventures Series, Yaakov and his siblings get a bit older and wiser. We see Rachel develop from a pesky little sister into a firebrand with a talent for solving obscure clues and predicaments. Younger brother Yosef, always the loose cannon, begins to take more of a leadership role in Jamaica. Yaakov becomes more introspective in this book; the author demonstrates his main character’s inner-conflict primarily in relation to his dealings with Yosef.
One can find Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica, as well as the other three books in the Peretz Family Adventures Series, on Amazon.com, as well as at www.peretzadventures.com