In principle, I’m a fan of historical fiction—just so it’s labeled as fiction. My current favorite is Farley Mowat’s The Farfarers. Mowat didn’t write pure historical fiction though, as the book alternates between archaeological and archival data chapters and his imagined version of the peoples who headed west from northwest Europe to Iceland, Greenland, and the New World (before they had those names, of course). It’s a masterful weaving, and makes the past come alive. He avoids expending much energy generating internal dialogue, instead concentrating on obvious material issues—watching weather, missing family, dietary concerns.
I had hoped Laura Esquivel’s Malinche would be a similar tour-de-force. The topic is right: contact-period central Mexico, and the turbulent times initiated by the arrival of Spanish plunderers and murderers and their not-so-noble men of the cloth. Esquivel completely captured my attention with her lyrical Like Water for Chocolate, and I hoped that her imagined version of the Spanish meany Córtes’s female translator’s experience as Córtes’s slave and servant would be similarly admirable. Early in their relationship, as Esquivel describes it, Córtes rapes Malinalli (aka Malinche, and considered a traitor by most Mexicans) and she is both dreamy and unconcerned. I tried to read more, but was too disgusted to continue. I expected far more from Esquivel. Don’t waste either your time or your money on this book.
The Farfarers, on the other hand, is worth every penny.