La Malinche: Heroine or Traitor?

Aztec by Colin Falconer: Book Review.



I read my fair share of books. If I took a photo of my bedroom (and I won’t because the camera on my iPhone 3GS is crappy) you’d see two to three deep rows of books lined up back to back in my tall bookshelf. There are smaller books on top of those rows, only one book deep because I may be messy but i don’t want to squash the books on the bottom.
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Books totter on an end table, hold up a lamp, crowd on a footstool, and fill a magazine holder meant for, yes, skinny magazines not chunky books. I won’t take you on a tour of the family room or my bathroom. At least my Kindle Fire is dust free and orderly.  


Most of the time I don’t write a review about books that I’ve read. If I had to guess, I’d say I write one long review for every 15 or so books. The rest of the time, and if I remember, I rate the books I read on my Goodreads page or on Amazon. 


Today I felt compelled to review the book “Aztec” by Colin Falconer because it was one of the historical fiction books that left an impression on me, much like Michener’s “Hawaii,” and Villasenor’s “Rain of Gold.” 


“Aztec,” is the story of Hernan Cortes’ invasion and conquest of the Mexica (pronounced Meh-she-ca) natives in the early 16th Century. Falconer tells this enthralling story via several narrators. Cortes and Malinali are the main characters but this is primarily Malinali Tepenal’s (commonly called Malinche) story. 


The main reason for loving this book is because it is told primarily through her perspective. This gives us an understanding of her motivations for doing what she did.The book tells the story of her life, role, and motives as Cortés’ translator of Chontal Mayan and Nahautl, the Aztec language. She became baptized, his concubine and renamed Doña Marina. (Doña is a title like My Lady).


Whether Malinali was a traitor or harlot has been debated for centuries. Historians agree that she was the daughter of a noble Aztec family. Upon the death of her father, a chief, her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Deciding that he rather than Marina, should rule, she turned her young daughter over to some passing traders and thereafter proclaimed her dead. She wound up as a slave of the Cacique (the military chief) of Tabasco. 

from Codex of Txlacala-Mexico 1519

The Aztecs called Malinali, Malinche. Even today, the word malinchista is a deadly insult, meaning traitor to the Mexican people. This name is also used to say a woman is someone’s mistress or a harlot.

By the time Cortes arrived, Malinali had learned the Mayan dialects used in the Yucatan while still understanding Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and most Non-Mayan Indians. She soon learned Spanish. What is not debated in history is a letter preserved in the Spanish archives, from Cortés, which states, “After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.”
The other facts that arise from this book and history are that Malinali Tenepal was an intelligent, loyal, and fearless woman. She loved Cortés, remained faithful to him, and bore his son, Martín Cortés, who became the first Mexican (a mixture of Spanish and Aztec or native blood).
I enjoyed the way this book was written but it did take a little readjustment in the beginning, especially with the different points of view. It does work, especially since the headings list who is telling the story. This provided for a 360-degree view of the characters motives. I agree with a previous reviewer: there are some typos, but not enough to make me stop reading.
Settings are vivid, descriptive, and in keeping with the landscape, customs, and clothing of the era. The lush imagery and authentic dialogue places one into the setting, giving us an understanding of the motives for the main characters.
Although some of the imagery is gruesome, it is necessary to tell the story. The themes of religion, culture, oppression, ambition, greed, good, evil and love are all explored. The historical facts seem accurate, as well as the use of the native language, description of dress, customs, music, and food.
This book would make for a fascinating screenplay and movie. Colin Falconer is a darn good storyteller.


Just so you know, I did not receive any compensation for this review.


Categories: Authors, Aztec, Book Review, Books, Colin Falconer, Malinali Tenepal, Malinche, Mexican History, Strong Women

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