Thursday, May 18, 2006

La Malinche by Laura Esquivel

The cover for Malinche describes the historical novel as a tale about the "tragic and passionate love affair" of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his translator. The story is a lyrical interpretation of the timeline that follows the destruction of Montezuma’s 16th-century Mexicas empire by Cortes. Mallinalli, also called Malinche in the book, was sold into slavery as a child and later became Cortes’ interpreter.

But the term love affair should be accepted lightly.

Yes, Cortes and Mallinalli share an intimate relationship that leads to the birth of a child and lends itself to vibrantly written scenes by Esquivel. Their first encounter, a mere exchange between their eyes with no words, is depicted with vivid passion.

But to call their relationship - which frequently included Cortes being just as forceful with Mallinalli as he was in war - one of love is extreme. Still, the relationship between Cortes and Mallinalli, a woman who has often been deemed a traitor in Mexican history, is a good launching pad for a novel.

The problem, however, comes when Esquivel tries to pack too much information into just a few pages. The novel gets clouded with Esquivel’s heavy use of magical realism and her need to explain every innermost thought of her characters. This leads to superfluous paragraphs that take characters into back story and memories. The result is a sometimes disjointed narrative.

But all these things may seem like gravy to Esquivel’s loyal fans, because overall she sticks to her pattern of richly imagined detail. Readers who like her style will devour every word. Those who do not may get lost.

Esquivel does do a nice job of showing a sympathetic side to Mallinalli that may reveal that she was an innocent trapped in Cortes’ power-hungry world instead of a traitor. Esquivel’s development of Mallinalli’s character is strong.

With Malinche, Esquivel remains true to her magical realism ways. So, loyalists will be delighted; others should move on.

You can find the review here

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