The Conquest

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Sara Rosario Gonzáles is a restorer of rare books and manuscripts at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. When Sara restores a sixteenth-century manuscript about an Aztec princess enslaved by Cortés and sent to Europe to entertain the pope and Emperor Charles V, she doesn't realize the power of the tale she's about to immerse herself into.

The princess, we find, is determined to avenge the slaughter of her people, and Sara is determined to prove that the book, which caused scandal ...

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The Conquest

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Sara Rosario Gonzáles is a restorer of rare books and manuscripts at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. When Sara restores a sixteenth-century manuscript about an Aztec princess enslaved by Cortés and sent to Europe to entertain the pope and Emperor Charles V, she doesn't realize the power of the tale she's about to immerse herself into.

The princess, we find, is determined to avenge the slaughter of her people, and Sara is determined to prove that the book, which caused scandal when first published, was written by the Aztec princess herself, and not the European monk reputed to have penned it.

Entwined within Sara's fascination of the manuscript is Sara's own life: the frustration over her inability to commit to Karl, the man who has loved her since high school; the haunting wisdom of her departed mother; and the stability of a father who sees the world in a way Sara does not, both pragmatically and unyieldingly.

The Conquest is a beautifully written novel that offers both hope that true love does exist and that history, in all its complexity, is what drives us all toward tomorrow.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
“Clever and spellbinding.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060093600
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/2/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Yxta Maya Murray is the author of The Conquest—winner of the Whiting Award—and The King's Gold, the second novel in her acclaimed Red Lion series. She is a professor at Loyola Law School and lives in Los Angeles.

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First Chapter

The Conquest

Chapter One

The museum is dark tonight. The shadows are cut by a few lamps, which cast a veil of light on the bronzes displayed in this gallery. Naked, shimmering girls and bearded satyrs turn supple in the glow, almost as if they might come alive any moment and turn a discerning eye upon their observer. I move from the room and out of the wing, stepping onto the courtyard with its flower and water gardens floating in blue light. Beyond the precipice of the hill upon which the museum stands lies the black ocean indistinguishable from the sky. It is a white-air, January evening, perfect weather for Jean Paul Getty's ghost to wander, dazzled, through the limestone halls his money built. I stretch my sweater tighter around my shoulders and enter the library. Even at midnight a few scholars' lamps burn from various corners, and the silence is threaded by the sound of a pencil on a page. Ancient, magnificent books sleep on the shelves, such as these medieval medical texts dispensing deadly advice on leechings and applications of mercury. I pass the fading tenth-century copy of Epicurus, with its recipes for sea urchins with honey and roast flamingo with mint. Here are the fifteenth-century chivalric novels in their lovely cameo bindings. And the eighth-century Aztec calendar with its themes of blood and grain.

I reach my desk. I turn on my lamp and pick up the old book that lies here. I run my fingers on the spine, the rotting leather. The tooled headbands and marbled papers, the rippled vellum leaves filled with beautiful script. Centuries ago a tawny fugitive dipped her pen into an inkwell and wrote these words long after the soldiers and bondsmen gave her up for dead. Later, the eons bit their teeth into this book. In a few years it will die unless this hinge is reglued and the tattered parts of the leaves and covers are patched.

That is my job. My name is Sara Rosario González, and I am thirty-two years old. I'm a rare book restorer.

Every day I come here to do the slow and painstaking work on this volume. It often takes me into the early hours of the morning. As I examine the flaws on a leaf I will become distracted by the words written on it. The story. I have no trouble imagining its author. The tawny woman bent over these leaves, slowly painting the letters in their telling style. After two pages she raised her head to watch a bird outside of her window. The green hills of Spain stretched farther than she could see. A soldier with a red plume in his helmet whipped his steed across the knolls, but such sights did not frighten her any longer, as she had learned to take refuge in disguises. She smiled, and returned to the book that now rests under my hands.

It is a late sixteenth-century folio, untitled, and bound in oxblood morocco; the text of vernacular Spanish is written on vellum in formal Rotunda script. The narrative tells of a female Aztec juggler brought to Europe by Hernán Cortés, and she has many adventures including fighting with the Ottomans, abandoning herself to the pleasures of Titian's Venice, and plotting the assassination of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. We believe it was composed in Cáceres, Spain, circa 1570, and because of stylographic similarities to other texts most scholars agree that it was authored by one Padre Miguel Santiago de Pasamonte, a hedonistic and probably insane Hieronymite monk who wrote a series of scandalous novels a full twenty years before Cervantes penned Don Quixote. My boss here at the Getty, Teresa Shaughnessey, is in these theorists' camp.

It appears that I am the sole dissenter to their hypothesis. I believe, as I've said, that a woman wrote this folio, and an Aztec woman at that. Perhaps it is fiction, perhaps not. Historical accounts of Aztec slaves' passage from Tenochtitlán to the Vatican will be found in annals from that era. And although this book contains accounts of magic, it was written in a credulous age, when the passionate still saw spirits and monsters mingling with human neighbors.

I've also dared to give it a title: The Conquest.

If I prove my hypothesis I will be as clever as any necromancer, for all the dark women of history have lost their tongues. If I show my colleagues that an Aztec woman wrote this book, it will be as if I'd tapped on the shoulder of the great volcano Ixtacihuatl and bade her speak.

And that's exactly what I'll do.

The night is deepening. Saturday night, so that this place is a clock-stopped island beyond which lies an electric and protean Los Angeles filled with revelers. I am the last of the scholars left here, and it is my favorite time in the museum, when I can fancy the duchesses and devils stepping down from their canvases and waltzing together through the black halls.

I can work now with no distraction but my own imagination. My tools are simple. White gloves, a bone folder, knitting needles, glue, and thin, milky sheets of linen and Japanese paper, which I will graft to the book's body in much the same way the surgeon repairs the body of a patient whose heart has been punctured by illness.

No, I will say that the process reminds me instead of a sweetheart reconstructing a destroyed love letter. The first time I held one of these relics -- it was a thirteenth-century manuscript of an Aztec poet, for I tend to seek projects that relate to my race -- I remember the impression that I possessed a message from a revenant suitor pining for the love of a beautiful woman. I glanced up, then, at these shelves of sleeping books and thought how each hid the ember of a hot heart that beat after passions now long forgotten.

The Conquest. Copyright © by Yxta Maya Murray. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2004

    Fullfilling novel

    Sara Rosario Gonzales works as a rare-book restorer at Los Angeles¿ Getty Museum. Her current assignment is to mend a sixteenth century manuscript, the story of ¿Helen¿ an Aztec woman Cortez sent as a present to the Pope.......................................... Upset in her personal life as her marine boyfriend is going to marry someone else because she failed to commit, Sara buries her unhappiness inside the restoration project. She soon believes that the story of the Aztec female is authentic, but everyone else insists its fiction. She begins researching clues to this Helen, her baptized name the Aztec received in Rome. For the first time in her shallow life, Sara commits to something with her heart as she seeks the truth whether Helen the Aztec really existed and had these wonderful adventures in Europe........................... . The contrast between Helen and Sara is startling as the former lives life to the fullest and the latter avoids life to the least degree yet both share in common a feeling of displacement. Obviously Helen¿s is easier to observe, but Sara¿s Latino heritage makes her feel out of sorts also. Sara's search for the truth links the two subplots neatly together. Though at times the tale slows down, fans obtain an intriguing character study that compares how two people living centuries apart share the same feelings of not belonging. ........................... Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    Richly Imaginative

    Rare book restorer Sara Gonzales encounters a pivotal moment in her life when she is assigned the task of restoring a banned sixteenth century book called 'The Conquest.' The storyline of that book hauntingly parallels that of her own life, full of burdens, questions left unanswered, and troublesome barriers. Conflicts within her own life must be confronted and resolved before Sara can pull herself out of the dusty existence in the tomb of a book restorer's world and rejoin the living. Uncovering the truths behind the authorship of 'The Conquest' surprisingly enables her to do so. This is a novel in which truths are revealed, and revelations are made. As an added bonus, the reader is treated to rich scenes of sixteenth century Europe, made complete by adding in the characters of Petrarch and Titian.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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