The Conquest
Yxta Maya Murray
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The Conquest

Yxta Maya Murray
300 pages
December 2003
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer April Chase's take on The Conquest.

Sara Gonzales’ life falls easily into two categories: her days at the Getty Museum restoring archived books, and her currently non-existent social life. Sara loves her work cataloging, restoring and discovering the secrets of the past hidden in the pages of ancient manuscripts.

Most recently, Sara has been fascinated with the text of a sixteenthth-century manuscript reportedly authored by a monk. Due to the passionate and emotive language, Sara questions the authenticity of this claim. She believes that a woman, “Helen”, wrote the book Sara calls “The Conquest.” Intimately involved with the translation, Sara uses her work as an excuse to ignore a long-term commitment, although she doesn’t realize the extent of her evasion until her boyfriend breaks up with her and becomes engaged to someone else.

Denying the consequences of her actions, Sara allows her obsession to continue as she tracks Helen’s adventures in Spain, Italy and endless literary salons in Venice. Helen is driven by a desire to avenge her family against Charles V and Cortez, who destroyed her entire village. Moving from intrigue to intrigue, Helen’s world is cushioned by adoring men and, particularly, women who guide her through every possible danger to achieve her goal.

Inexplicably, Sara absorbs the lessons of this dense volume she so carefully restores, awakening to another kind of existence, one that respects the quality of life. Mixed with sixteenth-century mythology and the specter of the Inquisition that ravages the land, Sara entertains memories of her mother, a vibrant and loving woman who met an untimely death. Surrounded by the books she treasures, the language that fills her thoughts and vivid images of her mother, Sara recognizes her own potential in the world. A difficult passage through the emotional territory of familial love, forgiveness and self-esteem prepares Sara to enter a world filled with unpredictability.

The Conquest is a nuanced account of the ways in which love can become a burden or a blessing. This isn’t a love story in the strictest sense; rather, it is a woman’s journey into her inner self and the resurrection of her hopes, where the past offers succor and understanding.

The author’s lyrical phrasing and historical accuracy enlivens Helen’s story, where a passionate people are overshadowed by the paranoid fear and hatred of religious intolerance. Each scene is rich with detail, whether in sixteenth-century Venice or present day Los Angeles, surrounded by priceless artifacts in the Getty Museum, the vast white building containing the treasures of the ages. The Conquest is full of light, shadow and the awakening of possibilities.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2004

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