El Ilumindo Shines Light on Past

Review by Kirsten Laskey

It is easy to leave the past in the textbooks and some musty corner of a public library. But what happens when a piece of history sneaks its way into the present?

Writer Ilan Stavans and Illustrator Steve Sheinkin explore this phenomenon in their graphic novel, “El Iluminado.”

The book begins with a suspenseful and spine-tingling scene. In the dead of night a man, Rolando Perez, is being chased to the edge of a cliff in some lonely spot of the New Mexico desert. Rolando’s pursuer, a villainous silhouette, is demanding something but Rolando insists he does not have it. As he retreats further and further from the pursuer, Rolando slips and falls to his death.

Fast forward to Professor Ilan Stavan’s lecture on crypto-Jews in Santa Fe. As he finishes up his lecture, Ilan unknowingly walks into a mystery that entwines history, religion, family relations and art.

I am not a graphic novel aficionado but I loved how this story was told by pictures and dialogue. The drawings were simple but the action and emotion still effectively unfolded on each page. As a local reader, it was especially great to have the setting based in a location that is only 45 minutes away from home. Sometimes local sites you see every day – sprawling vistas, the Santa Fe plaza – lose luster but “Iluminado” reminds you about the intriguing past and incredible character all these locales possess.

The plot seems to share a few elements from Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code.” Both literally works feature main characters that are solving mysteries based on controversial religious topics using knowledge of art and history and spotting the clues featured in the city around them.

However, I enjoyed Stavan and Sheinkin’s mystery because it was not far-fetched or read like a supermarket tabloid story.

Instead, it is a story stuffed with intrigue – it will make you want to pay a little more attention to the past. Maybe even crack open a textbook or visit that forgotten corner of the library. “El Iluminado” proves anything can be discovered.





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