Saturday, December 22, 2012

International Fiction Book Club Meeting (December 19, 2012) - "Malinche" by Laura Esquivel

         The International Fiction Book Club met on the evening of December, 19th, 2012 to discuss the novel, Malinche, by the Mexican novelist, Laura Esquivel.  A unanimous thumbs down on this one.  Though the Mayans were an earlier civilization than the Aztecs featured in this semi-romantic/semi historical novel, the setting seemed appropriate for our inquiry into the myth of La Malinche and the origin of modern Mexican ethnology as we approach the death of one cycle of life and the birth of another.

         Esquivel’s attempt to fictionalize the traitor/translator Malinalli , who has been written about numerous times over hundreds of years, rings hollow.  There is little documentation about the woman who became Hernán Cortés’ concubine at age sixteen.  She has been viewed as the mother of the Mexican nation since the birth of her son by Cortés was the first child born of indigenous and European blood.  But she has also been viewed as a traitor since she aligned herself with Cortés while helping to translate the words of welcome from Montezuma upon the arrival of the conquistadors to Tenochtitlan.

         As a group, we felt that the author failed to illuminate the subject.  Instead of writing a novel set in that time period (the early 16th century) and have interaction among characters paint a three-dimensional panorama of the destruction of the Aztec Empire and the conquest of Mexico, she infuses her ideological revisionist theories into the thoughts of Malinalli and in the process paints a two-dimensional portrait of a romanticized heroine.  Instead of rape victim we have a seductress.

         One member of our group called this book an historical romance with the emphasis on romance.  He also mentioned that the novel is full of cliches and “is stylistically awful”.  I would agree.  A quote from Esquivel from an interview with Adriana Lopez is revealing:

                            In the collective subconscious, Malinalli plays the role of the
                            mother and  Cortés father,  and if we think that she was a
                            whore and that he was a thief and an assassin, what does that
                            make of us?  I think that it is important to change our perception
                            of the Conquest.  We must stop seeing ourselves as victims of
                            the Spanish...It is important to revise history, to see things a
                            a different way...that our skin contains all colors...If we saw
                            things this way, wouldn’t we feel proud of our past?

          When I read this passage to our group it put our discussion in perspective.  Perhaps an essay pleading her case with honesty would have been more appropriate for Ms. Esquivel.  But she is an accomplished author who chose to use the guise of the novel to hide her intent rather than illuminate the violent reality of the Conquest of Mexico.

         We begin 2013 with a meeting at the historic Blum House which is next door to the Collinsville Public Library.  On the evening of January 16th at 6:30 p.m. we will be discussing, The Snow Child, by Alaskan author, Eowyn Ivey.  You may check out this title at the front desk and feel free to join us.  Happy New Year!  

Posted by Jim Krapf, Library Clerk