Review of Malinche by Laura Esquival

One of the coolest things about home schooling is learning all the stories and characters from world history that we don’t normally learn in school.  There’s the five year old boy who became Emperor of Brazil.  His name was Pedro de Alcontara Joso Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Francisco Zavier de Paula Leoc dio Miguel Rafael Gabriel Gonzaga, By the Grace of God and Unanimous Acclamation of the People, Constitutional Emperor and Perpetual Defender of Brazil.  Really, I kid you not.  Then there’s the patriotic Chinese group called “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists” better known by Americans as the Boxers, who believed they became possessed by spirits that gave them supernatural strength and skill.  And who could forget the mystery of the Roanoke Colony, whose small population of early colonists to America simply disappeared?

Laura Esquival’s book Malinche is a fictionalized account of the mysterious native woman who accompanied the Spanish Conquistidor Cortez as he made his way through Mexico.  Using her imagination to color the details of the distant past, Esquival recounts the adventures of the woman, Malinche, who so fascinated Cortez and served as his “tongue” or interpreter, in his dealings with local people.

Motivated by a strong desire to do away with ritual human sacrifices, Malinche saw the Spaniards first as allies.  She soon learned, though, that Cortez planned more than just reform for the native villages.  She sickened when she witnessed his brutality and was hurt by his refusal to acknowledge the child they had together.  Esquival beautifully captures both a voice and a sensibility in Malanche that transcends the centuries yet rings historically true.

Unfortunately, the role of women in history still has to be dealt with deliberately.  Aside from the old standbys like Clara Barton, Molly Pitcher, or Cleopatra, teachers have to make a concerted effort to show how women shaped history alongside men–before women became “liberated.”  Though this book is not appropriate for very young children because it contains sex scenes (in a very literal and matter-of-fact way), it would be appropriate for mature middle schoolers and high school students and provides a lens through which to view this enigmatic woman and her role on one of the pivitol events in history.


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