From Publishers Weekly
Through the eyes of the historical native woman of the novel's title, Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate
) reveals the defeat and destruction of Montezuma's 16th-century Mexicas
empire at the hands of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Malinche, also called Malinalli, was sold into slavery as a child and later became "The Tongue," Cortés's interpreter and lover—remembered by history as a traitor for her contribution to the brutal Spanish triumph. In her lyrical but flawed fifth novel, Esquivel details richly imagined complications for a woman trapped between the ancient Mexicas
civilization and the Spaniards. Esquivel revels in descriptions of the role of ancient gods in native life and Malinalli's theological musings on the similarities between her belief system and Christianity. But what the book offers in anthropological specificity, it lacks in narrative immediacy, even while Esquivel also imagines Cortés's point of view. The author also packs the arc of Malinalli's life into a relatively short novel: she bears Cortés an illegitimate son, marries another Spaniard and has a daughter before her sad demise. The resulting disjointed storytelling gives short shrift to this complex heroine, a woman whose role in Mexican history is controversial to this day.
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The best-selling author of Like Water for Chocolate
(1992) here turns to Mexico's legendary historical figure of Malinche, Hernan Cortes' Indian interpreter and mistress, for another of her cultural explorations of Mexico's past. In Esquivel's reinterpretation of the story, the woman long regarded as a traitor is cast in a much more sympathetic light and is called Malinalli. Raised by her protective grandmother and given a deep appreciation for her people's customs, language, and religion, Malinalli eagerly awaits the arrival of Cortes, believing that he is the reincarnation of her tribe's benevolent and beloved god Quetzalcoatl and that he will put an end to the barbaric practice of human sacrifice practiced by their ruler, Montezuma. A gifted linguist, Malinalli soon picks up Spanish and becomes an invaluable interpreter, translating between Spanish and Nahuatl; she remains convinced that Cortes' interest and hers are one and the same: the liberation of her people. The two become lovers, but Malinalli grows disenchanted upon realizing that the wily Cortes is obsessed with gold and just as bloodthirsty as Montezuma. This novel is not as accessible as Esquivel's earlier work, and the quality of the prose is uneven, sometimes lyrical and sometimes stilted. Still, Esquivel's many fervent fans will be interested in her latest. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved