Malinche, by Laura Esquivel, is a fascinating fictional account of the relationship between the Spanish explorer/conquistador, Hernan Cortés, and the Indian woman who was both his interpreter and his mistress during his conquest of the Aztecs.
(From the Reading Group Guide in the book):
“Throughout Mexican history, Malinalli (Malinche) has been reviled for her betrayal of the Indian people. But recent historical research has shown that her role was much more complex. She was the mediator between two cultures, Hispanic and Native American, and three languages, Spanish, Mayan, and Náhuatl. She was also a slave, trying to rebel against the barbarous culture of her masters, the Aztecs. But her loyalty was to her own people, whom she was trying to free.”
Laura Esquivel’s writing has been described as lyrical, and I agree. This book was beautifully written. I didn’t know very much about this part of history, so I was completely caught up in the story and the events. But what I loved most were the beautiful descriptions and the emotional truths expressed so honestly.
On Malinalli’s role as interpreter:
“Being “The Tongue” was an enormous responsibility. She didn’t want to make a mistake or misinterpret, and she couldn’t see how to prevent it since it was so difficult translating complex ideas from one language to the other. She felt as if each time she uttered a word she journeyed back hundreds of generations…”
“…Words were like lightning, swiftly crossing valleys, mountains, seas, bringing needed information as readily to monarchs as to vassals, creating hope or fear, establishing alliances, abolishing enemies, changing the course of events.”
I really liked the following passage which described Malinalli’s sadness upon discovering as a very young girl that her beloved grandmother was blind:
“The grandmother tenderly took her into her arms. “I will ever leave you. Every time that you see a bird in flight, there I’ll be. In the form of the trees, there I’ll be. In the mountains, the volcanoes, the cornfields, there I’ll be. And, above all things, each time that it rains I will be near you. In the rain we will always be together. And don’t worry about me, I went blind because I was disturbed at how the appearances of things would confuse me and not allow me to see their essence. I went blind to return to the truth. It was my own decision, and I am happy with what I now see.”
It’s quite a story, and I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy historical fiction, and especially for anyone who appreciates Laura Esquivel’s beautiful writing.
Click here to read Christine Welter’s excellent review of this book.
Click here to read an interview with Laura Esquivel about her book, Malinche.