Malinche (1505-29) is infamous in Mexican history and folklore as a traitor to her people, having sacrificed her Indian heritage to become interpreter-and later, mistress-to the conquistador Hernando Cortes. Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate) puts her own twist on the story with her imagined life of a young woman sold into slavery by her own mother and subsequently caught between the worlds of Montezuma and the Spanish conquerors. While the descriptions of Malinche's beliefs in the roles of the ancient gods and her observations on Christianity are fascinating and well written, the novel is too short to encompass the story Esquivel wants to tell us, which makes the narrative at times problematic. Raped by Cortes, Malinche comes to love him so suddenly that there is almost no transition for the reader; later, and just as quickly, she becomes enamored of another man who rapes her. Malinche, a.k.a. Malinalli and Marina, is a remarkable character who deserves more detailed treatment. Recommended with reservations for public libraries. [Malinche appeared earlier this year in Spanish.-Ed.]-Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In this brief novel, the author of 1992's Like Water For Chocolate attempts to repair the reputation of one of Mexican history's most reviled women, the Spanish conqueror Cortes's native interpreter, Malinalli. As a child, Malinalli (aka Malinche) is sold by her mother into slavery but retains her beloved grandmother's belief in the beneficent pre-Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, whose return (second coming?) would mean the end of the Aztec conqueror Montezuma's practice of human sacrifice. When Cortes arrives, Malinalli believes he is a savior, if not the god himself, and is happy to put her linguistic skills to use as his translator. She becomes known as "The Tongue." She allows herself to be baptized, entwining Christian doctrine with her own belief system, but, although she finds herself sexually drawn to Cortes, she begins to suspect that he is not to be trusted to save her people. Nevertheless, she remains his translator, following her instinct for survival despite the possibility she may anger her gods. After Malinalli watches Montezuma give up his kingdom because he has faith in Quetzalcoatl's return, she realizes that Montezuma has experienced a spiritual transformation but has also made a terrible mistake in placing his faith in Cortes. As Cortes consolidates a murderous stranglehold over Mexico, he becomes more monstrous. Finally, Malinalli breaks with him when he requires her to abandon their son in the same way her mother abandoned her. After Cortes marries her off to his captain, she ends up living a happy life and dying a happy death, at one with the gods. Because Esquivel is less interested in fleshing out the plot than in delineating the belief system of the pre-Azteccivilization, everything that happens to Malinalli is swathed in imagery and deep spiritual significance. In contrast, everything Cortes does is explained as the psychological consequences of his childhood experience. Despite its lyricism, this odd marriage of spirituality and psychology will be a slog for all but the most devoted New Agers.