Emotionally dry, but historical fiction doesn’t get much better.

MALINALLI OF THE FIFTH SUN

THE SLAVE GIRL WHO CHANGED THE FATE OF MEXICO AND SPAIN

Historical fiction strives to restore the virtue of La Malinche, the infamous slave and confidante of Hernán Cortés, through an intimate coming-of-age tale.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the peoples of Latin America faced massive upheaval as Spanish conquistadors arrived to spread Christianity and claim the land’s fortune for themselves. The most noteworthy of these conquistadors was legendary Hernán Cortés, a man of many resources, though perhaps none greater than the multilingual slave and recent convert Marina. With her aid and council, Cortés and his fellow Spaniards were able to ally themselves with the Tlaxcalans to defeat the Aztecs; and with her love, Cortés fathered one of the first mestizos, a child of both European and Latin American descent. But before she was Marina, she was Malinalli, a Nahua girl from a well-to-do family, who, by the machinations of self-serving men, was sold into slavery. Only through her inquisitive spirit was she able overcome her hardships and learn the skills that made her invaluable to Cortés, establishing her as one of the most important—and often maligned—women in Mexican history. Heavily researched, Gordon’s (Voice of the Vanquished, 1995, etc.) narrative tackles Marina’s story with a distinctly contemporary voice, modernizing even the dialogue to make it both relevant and approachable and to more easily parallel present-day topics such as politics, family values, religion and gender roles. Despite this modernization, the tale doesn’t neglect the bygone cultures it portrays; instead, it highlights the nuances of the unique people, customs and languages Marina encounters. Though strong overall, the narrative has a few flaws: Some character developments feel rushed, especially Malinalli’s quick acceptance of Christianity, where perhaps complex emotion has been sacrificed for historical accuracy. Similarly, the text seems so intent on restoring honor to Marina that it greatly simplifies the struggle between her birth culture and the invading Spaniards’, which is particularly noticeable in the narrative’s less than robust criticism of colonialism. In Malinalli’s story, spiritual omens, Christian or otherwise, often feel Shakespearean in nature—befitting of the story’s emphasis on the joy and tragedy in the life of the controversial “mother of the new Mexican people.”

Emotionally dry, but historical fiction doesn’t get much better.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462064953

Page Count: 672

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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