A Jewish girl imprisoned in a Catholic convent

Monkfish Book Publishing Company

Her lost diary found in 1989, the source for new historical novel

The year is 1749. The Jewish ghetto of Rome, at the center of the Papal States. “Last night, when the sbirri (police) pulled her out of the carriage, the prioress was waiting for her, smiling as though she were welcoming a guest.” The nuns locked her in a cell, in a convent designed for making converts. 

This beautiful work of historical fiction is inspired by 18-year-old Anna del Monte’s true story: a Jewish girl imprisoned by the Roman Catholic Church of Pope Benedict XIV. With no access to the outside world, she withstands lectures, threats, promises, isolation, and sleep deprivation designed to turn her away from her Jewish family and tradition, to say “yes” to Catholic conversion. 

She would not. Risking forced baptism—which would have marked her forever apart from those she loved—she withstood the torture. And it was torture. 

Few people know the story of the Roman Ghetto or the abduction of Jews, of popes 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, and gullible. Joie Davidow, author also of An Unofficial Marriage, another European historical novel, tells this powerful story with passion. Explaining how Anything But Yes came to be, she says: “Discovering the diary of Anna’s experience sent me down the rabbit hole of research, and I spent the next few years working on this novel to illustrate the Church’s determination to convert all non believers, and the larger story of the Jews living under papal rule, the culture, the language, and the traditions and celebrations, as well as the deprivation.”  

“A compelling account of the intersection of sincere faith and abusive political power.”
— Mary Doria Russell, Author of The Sparrow and A Thread of Grace

“An intricately detailed novel of resistance and community.” — Kirkus Reviews

With Anything But Yes: A Novel of Anna del Monte, Jewish Citizen of Rome, 1749 (Trade paperback original; ISBN 978-1-958972-08-3; Monkfish Book Publishing Company, US $16.99; Publication date: October 3, 2023), Joie Davidow—journalist and editor extraordinaire—brings a shocking example of Christian antisemitism and bigotry to light. 

For author interviews, media review copies: Paul Cohen
[email protected] or (845) 876-4861


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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