Malinalli is “the Tongue”, the only one who can translate from the Aztec Neutachl to Spanish.
As a member of a native Indian tribe captured by the Aztecs she sides with Spanish colonist Herman Cortes to help destroy the Aztecs led by Montezuma and free her people.
She is aware of her power as translator
“Words she knew were like lightning , swiftly crossing valleys, mountains, seas, bringing needed information as readily to monarchs as to vassals,creating hope or fear, establishing alliances, abolishing enemies, changing the course of events.“
She ends up destroying her entire nation as Cortes, now her lover, proves to be one of the cruellest men she has seen, one who will seal Spain’s victory forever in Mexico
La Maliniche is a real character in Mexican history and a controversial one – is she the one who betrayed her country, or the one trying to free her tribe or the one betrayed by her lover?
Laura Esquivel known for her superbly evocative book Like water for chocolate ventures into 16th century Mexico with this book.
There is a hint of magical realism as she narrates the vast sweep of Mexican history and conquest,the myths and legends and introduces us to a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses Taloac, Quetzatcotal,Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water, Ometeotl the great creator of dualities .
It is fascinating because Mexico and Mexican history are far away from India. But the Pantheon of Gods is easy to identify with as well as the capitulation to conquest .
The clash between the new world ie Spain and the ancient Mexico becomes clear as the book unfolds .
Cortes comes seeking power and Mexican gold .
Malinalli is intrigued. ‘Gold she muses, known as teocuitltlal was considered to be the excrement of the Gods , waste matter and nothing else so she didn’t understand the desire to accumulate it.’
For her and her tribe the grain of corn was far more sacred .
It is a well written book but it needs a pre or post reading of Mexican history to help understand this book better. Trying to pronounce any of the names of the Gods is impossible unless you have a Mexican friend by your side .
I didn’t so I am still unsure about pronunciation.
You can read it from a feminist perspective of the difficulty of negotiating power as a woman and celebrating what Malinalli achieved as ‘the tongue’ .
Or you can read it as a story of betrayal .
Esquivel falters in establishing her own position
Even though it is written from Malinalli’s own view you do feel for all her wisdom and insight she did not read the signs from the Gods as she fell into the human trap of love and loyalty .