For media/​interview requests;
Or concerning rights:

Call 203-226-9834 or Email: andreebrooks@​


Press and media Q and A for “Russian Dance"

Q. Why is this book important to the modern reader? It begins to explore the early Jewish Bolshevik revolutionaries in a new light. With the demise of communism and the distance of almost a century we need to examine their motivations and actions in a more nuanced way. In some cases these people were our parents or grandparents. So they are a part of family as well as general history. How we judge our forebears has an impact upon how we formulate our own identities.

Q. The early part of the book is set in Manhattan in the theatrical/​opera world of the 1920’s. How did the Russian Revolution affect this world? The American musical theater was still in its infancy at the time. The skills in stage set design, costume, music and general innovation that the artistic émigrés (fleeing the turmoil in their own country) brought with them had a deep impact upon the theatrical practices they found in New York. The backdrop to this story helps expand upon that world. It also introduces us to the great impresario of those days, Max Rabinoff – the original “Max” from whom later producers took their cue.

Q. You were handed a cache of private letters written from Moscow in the winter of 1930. What do these letters tell us? They demonstrate in a very personal way and on a daily basis what it was like to live as an ordinary person in Moscow during that time of terror.

Q. You were able to interview the lead character in the story just before she died. How does she add to our knowledge of the era and the participants? By recounting her experiences both in Manhattan and in Moscow, she was able to fill in many details about what it was like to have a ringside seat at – for example – the earliest of Stalin’s purge trials. How the onlookers felt. How the terrors affected the way people behaved. And how Stalin managed to get his way even very early in his regime.

Q. Tell us a little about the Bolshevik spy who is also a lead character in this story. His name was Marc Sheftel and he was an idealistic Jewish physician who believed that the socialism (manifested as communism) was the solution to a world where the masses were being shamelessly exploited by the industrialists and also sent by the thousands to face certain death in the carnage that was World War I. He also believed the “new politics” would eradicate the anti-Semitism and discrimination that was literally killing his fellow Jews of the Pale.

Q. This book is being called a romantic thriller. Explain how it can be a romantic thriller and still be considered serious non-fiction. It is a faithful recreation of a period of time in the lives of two lovers used as a way to tell more serious history in a easily understood fashion. A novelistic style was needed because of the passion and intrigue. The drama and emotion would have otherwise been lost. All of the scenes actually took place – we have documentary evidence – and real names have been used throughout. There is a full accounting of sources at the end.

Contact information and
Media Q and A


For lectures contact Andree Brooks (by phone) at: 203-226-9834
Or by email: - or

Development funds are now being raised to make "The Woman who defied Kings" into a TV mini series. Contact the author for more information, and to participate.

A screen treatment and the movie rights are still available for "Russian Dance." Once again, please contact the author:

Interested in travel? Some of the topics on this website are also
covered by a specialized English-speaking Israeli tour company out of Jerusalem.
For a listing of their latest travel seminars go to: Ziontours; then click on the Jewish
Historical Seminars tab at the top. Please note that the author is not part
of this company; nor does she provide lectures for them. But she has studied with them.

Suggested questions for press/​media interviews: helpful background notes.

Q and A for "The Woman who Defied Kings."


Q. What is this book all about? It is a biography of Doña Gracia Nasi, a 16th century international banker who used her fortune and influence at the courts of Europe to save thousands of victims of the Inquisition. It’s the first comprehensive treatment of her life and is based almost entirely on original documents. Many had never been retrieved from the archives prior to this time. Her life offers important lessons for our own times.

Q. Where was she born and how did she obtain that fortune? She was born in Lisbon, Portugal, shortly after Columbus discovered the New World. Her fortune was inherited. Her husband and brother-in-law, who were rich spice merchants and bankers, left in her in control of their banking empire following their untimely deaths while she was still in her late twenties.

Q. Why is this biography important today? It shows how many of the issues facing business women today existed five hundred years ago. And it is instructive because you can see how one woman dealt with those issues and problems. She was very sophisticated in her maneuvers. It also sheds new light on how wealthy and educated widows conducted their lives in a century that reflects our own, since it was particularly liberal concerning the rights and roles of women. It was the era, one will recall, of Catherine de Medici of France, Elizabeth I of England, Isabella D’Este of Italy, among many others. It also tells us a lot about wealth-building and banking practices at that time.

Q. What were banking practices like in the 16th century? The research shows how surprisingly modern banking practices were back then. The bankers, including the House of Mendes run by Dona Gracia, had already developed a network of agents in various countries who could cash bills of exchange on a regular basis, not just at pre-determined intervals as in the Middle Ages. These bankers syndicated loans and capital. In 1531 they opened the first modern stock exchange in Antwerp. They squeezed monopoly rights out of penniless monarchs looking for up front cash on a regular basis. They utilized maritime insurance. They speculated in currency. Credit was extended and they were able to work out complex collateral deals that took into account the fact that they were not operating in democratic societies. Controls lay instead in personal relationships developed among trading partners that made it almost impossible for any one to continue doing business if commitments were not honored.

Q. Did she ever remarry? No, she could not do so without giving up control of her fortune. But she seems to have had lovers, and I mentioned those possibilities. Even so, she still faced a personal loneliness not uncommon among many accomplished women. She also had to deal with a jealous sister and brother who betrayed her in their own individual ways. Her family was not supportive.

Q. What role did religion play in her story? She was one of thousands of Jews whose families had been forcibly converted to Catholicism about twenty years before she was born. At the time she came into her fortune these former Jews or conversos, were being accused by the Inquisition, which was a regulatory arm of the Catholic Church, of backsliding in Judaism. Doing so was a crime punishable by imprisonment, torture and burning. And they were being harassed whether or not they had been secretly perpetuating their Jewish faith. Today we would call it ethnic cleansing.

Q. How did she save them? She developed an escape network that quietly moved hundreds of them on the spice ships that regularly sailed from Portugal to Antwerp, a major trading port and liberal city in Northern Europe. From there she organized money and safe houses to help them transfer overland, over the Alps, to Venice in Italy where they could board the long-distance sailing vessels bound for the Ottoman Empire; a Muslim area outside the control of the Inquisition. They could not sail from most of the other European ports since the Muslims were fighting the Christian West, much as they are today. Venice operated like a neutral zone, similar to Switzerland during World War II, allowing traffic to flow between the two opposing forces.

Q. Did she have other concerns about their welfare? Yes. Many of them wanted to live as Jews - as she did - having been outraged by their forced conversions. And were anxious to find a way to do so. The only solution was to move them to a region of the world where this was possible. Most of Western European had expelled its Jews decades earlier. Only the Muslim nations were opening their doors.

Q. What else did she do for them? She would regularly confront church officials and monarchs every time they were being harassed. She even tried to create a special area in the Tiberias region of the Holy Land for their re-settlement, a move that some historians have equated with an early attempt at starting a modern State of Israel. She was close to death at the time and the settlements did not survive. The setbacks she faced in trying to establish a Jewish settlement for the refugees on Palestinian soil are similar to today. The local Arabs spread deadly rumors and launched sneak attacks on settlers. And the Christian monks in Jerusalem further scuttled her efforts by spreading their own propaganda at the court of the Turkish Sultan who ruled the area at the time and had the power to pull his support for the project.

Q. How did you do your research? This biography was made possible through the discovery of dozens of unpublished 16th century documents. To research this book, I worked with teams of scholars who transcribed and translated these documents into thirteen languages in seven countries. Gradually, Dona Gracia’s actions came into focus. On one level she was pursuing the Mendez family business, royal loans, spice monopolies, syndications, and currency arbitrage. On another, the pursuit of profits covered her real goal, the preservation of her people.

Q. What did you learn from exploring her life? Dona Gracia is important to history because she shatters the stereotype of how women conducted their lives at that time and offers us a unique window onto the banking practices of the era. She directs an escape network, fends off greedy papal officials, outwits both a covetous king and an emperor anxious to confiscate her fortune, and outmaneuvers a resentful sister willing to take extreme measures. She flees for her own safety from Renaissance Europe to the Ottoman Empire and the protection of Suleiman the Magnificient. Once there, she resettles displaced refugees, reconstructing their lives by sponsoring housing, synagogues, and schools. I found her very inspiring. She wielded power, was hard-headed and calculating, yet business was the tool she used to serve her higher purpose.

What Others Say

History, romantic thriller, Jewish history
"A gripping narrative," Publishers' Weekly "highly recommended," Library Journal
Biography, Jewish History
"A delight!" Hadassah Magazine; "An assiduously researched biography," Publishers' Weekly
Sephardic, Caribbean and Mediterranean Jewish history,
History, culture, food, music and customs of the Jews who trace their ancestry to Spain and Portugal. pdf downloads now available from its dedicated website, where you also pay in any currency through Paypal:
Contemporary Parenting
"An excellent child-rearing guide," New York Times; available with hands-on workbooks. New! e-book edition and a companion documentary available on; workbooks directly from this author. This book has its own dedicated website: