An imaginative, vivid reconstruction of a Mexican Indian woman who profoundly shaped New World history—and then was reviled for four centuries.
La Malinche, as she is known in Mexico, was probably 18 or 19 when Spanish soldiers first landed near Veracruz in 1519. A Mayan speaker who also knew Nahuatl, and who was thus conversant with “various peoples of central Mexico,” Malinche (whom the Spanish called Marina) guided the conquistadors to Tenochtitlan and negotiated their entrance into the capital of the people erroneously known to us as Aztecs. (One of the many contributions of Lanyon’s study is that it restores the name “Culua-Mexica” to Moctezuma’s people; “Azteca,” she writes, was an “archaic and obsolete term” that crept into a Spanish report and was repeated uncritically ever since.) After Cortes and his soldiers overthrew the regal government of Moctezuma and Cuahtemoc and established Spanish rule over Mexico, Malinche was put to other uses than as an interpreter; in fact, she bore a child to Cortes, one of the first mestizos born (that child, named Martin, has since been apotheosized as “the founder of the cosmic race” of Mexicans). She died around March 1528, “probably in one of the great and horrifying plagues that were sweeping Mexico at the time,” and was buried in an unmarked grave. Australian historian Lanyon has done her homework well to resurrect Malinche from the ashes of history and to restore her reputation, for she has been viewed for nearly 500 years as a traitor who delivered Mexico into enemy hands. Lanyon also defends Malinche from the ridiculous charge, propounded in Gary Jennings’s novel Aztec and many other books, that she was a promiscuous vixen in beads and buckskin, something that contemporary Spanish reporters such as Bernal Diaz, “who was an ardent gossip,” would certainly have noted.
Lanyon’s well-written life of Malinche will be of much interest to historians and general readers alike.