The author of the popular Like Water for Chocolate follows with the story of Malinche, revolving around the almost-mythical character of Malinalli, the woman who aided Hernan Cortes during the 1500s in his destruction of the Aztec Empire. The book takes on an almost mystical feel since much of Malinalli's childhood memories and adult beliefs stemmed from the Mexica's cultural stories about their gods, all of whom represent different aspects of nature.
The story begins with Malinalli's birth, with her maternal grandmother acting as midwife. Traditions dictated that the acting as midwife would also be the one to baptize the child, thus playing a prominent role in the life of the child. From then on, the grandmotherís part in Malinalli's life becomes important as Malinalli's mother's life is filled by a second husband following the death of Malinalli's father. Malinalli and her grandmother become very close, and those years are very happy ones. Upon her grandmother's death, however, the young girl is sold as a slave to Mayan slave traders. Eventually she ends up being sold to the Spaniards, who have come to Mexico seeking gold and other treasures.
Malinalli and Hernan Cortes are fated to meet, and the two feel a highly charged desire that keeps them together. She eventually becomes his translator, thus creating the role that she will be remembered in the history books for. History paints La Malinche as a powerful woman who stood in the middle between the Europeans, who were trying to rape the land and steal away from the native people their culture and possessions, and the native Mexicas, primarily the Aztecs.
Malinalli's life was a tragic one, but she will go down in history as possibly the mother of the peoples of modern Mexico. Her union with Hernan Cortes resulted in a son, Martin, one of the first Mestizos, people of mixed blood (European and native Mexica). Today the word "malinchista" is derogatory, a label for one who loves foreigners and is a traitor. Laura Esquivel, however, paints a different picture, making Malinalli a sympathetic character torn between two peoples who makes a bad choice when she is drawn to Hernan Cortes; but she is also trying to save herself in the process, hoping to free herself and her people forever. She also wants an end to the human sacrificing, and with the help of the Spaniards, she was hopes to make some drastic changes in the lives of the people of Mexico.
While the story was intriguing and filled with wonderful details of Malinalliís life as both a child and an adult, the novel itself is a little too meandering as it weaves back and forth in time. However, the story is so unique and refreshing a topic that it is hard to put down. After reading Malinche, I had gained new knowledge about the history of Mexico and the New World, and felt compelled to learn more.
Malinche is a remarkable book for those who enjoy historical novels. While the events are based on actual facts, the story of Malinalli and Hernan is fictionalized. Laura Esquivel writes these history-based characters in a way that that allows the reader to get into their minds, fostering an understanding of what prompted these two people to get together and make the choices they did. It is also a fascinating tale of a woman whose fate was sealed when she became the translator for Hernan Cortes, a pivotal point in history.