27 November 2006

Book Review: Malinche

Thanksgiving was supposed to be my chance to catch up on, well, about EVERYTHING: sleep, grading, lesson planning, writing, and--most importantly--reading.

I was unsuccessful on most counts, but I wanted to pass along a short review of the book Malinche by Laura Esquivel.

La Malinche is a legendary character in Mexico. Known as the native who served Hernan Cortes as a translator in his unbelievable conquest of the Aztec Empire, she has long been reviled as a traitor to her Native race. Esquivel tries to redeem her by walking many miles in her shoes. We meet the girl sold into slavery at the age of five; the young slave given over to Cortes upon his landing, where her aptitude for languages serves her well; to the concubine who shares with us her amazement at the glories of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, and her despair when it is totally wracked by the conquering Spaniards.

The book focuses on the spiritual development of Malinche--known in the book as Malinalli. Initially she, like Montezuma, believes that Cortes is a reincarnation of the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl. (Montezuma famously handed over his entire empire to Cortes without a fight because of this misconception.) Only as she is exposed to the gore of conquest and Cortes's insatiable desire for conquest--particularly when she sees the incredible floating city of Tenochtitlan reduced to nothing--does she see him as a mere, vulnerable man.

I think Esquivel has chosen the best path, considering the kind of character she is dealing with--it's like trying to explain other famous traitors like Judas or Brutus. She tries to draw us into Aztec mythology and comparisons between Quetzalcoatl and the Christ of Malinalli's new religion. But the book tends to bog down in these parts. The most gripping part of the book for me was Malinalli's journey through Tenochtitlan: the descriptions of the marketplace, the artifacts, and the other fine aspects of that incredible floating city.
Malinche is a good weekend read. Ultimately, it failed to introduce me to any redeeming characteristics of its primary character, but I would recommend it for the way it let me see through her eyes at cultures and conquests of long ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm reading malnche for my high school honors english 2 class and i think it sucks