Mandy’s Musings: Of stars, books and Aztecs

This is going to be a slight change of pace from the series of book reviews we have been expertly spurting out so far (yes go us!), which is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t finished any books in time for today… my bad…

I do however have something up my sleeve, or rather, something waiting for me on my untidy desk.

That thing is this brick of a novel by Gary Jennings, an epic tale entitled Aztec.

The first time I heard of this book was in my Mesoamerican Art History and Archaeology class which I adored. The indigenous cultures of Central America have always fascinated me, especially because of my heritage on my dad’s side, and finding out that a class about them was offered in my program practically made me leap for joy.

However, I was afraid I’d have to seek out this book with no luck once vacation started, but imagine my surprise when I found it lying in a bookshelf in my boyfriend’s childhood home? I’m not really one to believe in fate or destiny, but god be damned if this wasn’t meant to be. The stars were in position for me to find this book! (…I should clarify that I don’t mean I simply met my boyfriend to find this book, this is just one of the many perks of being with him :p)

Anyways, as the title suggests Gary Jenning’s Aztec is about the Aztec civilization (or rather the Mexica as they referred to themselves), but more precisely, about the life of Mixtli-Dark Cloud before, during and after the arrival of the Spanish. Born the son of peasants, Mixtli quickly rises within Aztec society, starting as a young scribe, then a warrior, a wealthy traveling merchant, and finally a lord in the impressive city of Tenochtitlan and Motecuzoma’s emissary to the newly arrived Cortes and his Conquistadors.

I’ve heard that this book had some issues but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually read the book. I also heard that this book wasn’t for the faint of heart, but having researched in countless books and sources about the sacrificial rituals of the Aztecs, I think I’ll be able to handle it (they were surprisingly graphic). Besides, faint isn’t even close to being my middle name.

Also, what is interesting is how the narrative is composed as a series of letters between Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and King Carlos I of Spain (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) who requested a chronicle of the lives of the Aztecs as they once were. This is where Mixtli comes in, now an impoverished old man but deemed educated enough “for his race” to share his life story, with friars transcribing and hanging on to his every word. And what an old man this Mixtli seems to be! As Zumárraga writes at the beginning: “From the very first opening of his mouth, the Aztec evinces disrespect for out person, our cloth, and our office as our Reverend Majesty’s personally chosen missionary, which disrespect is an implicit insult to our sovereign himself.”

As if I wasn’t excited enough! I hope this book doesn’t disappoint!

Mandy

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