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Laura Esquivel reimagines the relationship between the Spaniard Hernán Cortés and the Indian woman Malinalli, his interpreter and mistress during his conquest of the Aztecs. Malinalli meets Cortés and, like many, including the Aztec King Montezuma, suspects that he is the returning forefather god of their tribe, Quetzalcoatl. She assumes that her task is to welcome Cortés/Quetzalcoatl and help him destroy the Aztec empire and free her people, but she gradually comes to realize that Cortés's thirst for conquest is all too human.
Throughout Mexican history, Malinalli has been reviled for her betrayal of the Indian people. But recent historical research has shown that her role was much more complex. She was the mediator between two cultures, Hispanic and Native American, and three languages, Spanish, Mayan, and Náhuatl. She was also a slave, trying to rebel against the barbarous culture of her masters -- the Aztecs. But her loyalty was to her own people, whom she was trying to set free.
Laura Esquivel challenges the traditional mythology through a character-driven portrait of the Adam and Eve of mestizo culture, Cortés and Malinalli, with the backdrop of the fall of the Aztec Empire. Told with the lyricism of the Náhuatl song tradition and pictorial language, she gives us a creation myth of the new world hybrid culture and a legendary affair. Group Questions
1. Laura Esquivel dedicated Malinche to the wind. What does this symbolize, and what other dedications would be appropriate for this book?
2. Other than Malinalli's affair with Cortés and her eventual marriage to Jaramillo, the relationships she has in the book are maternal. Discuss the themes represented by Malinalli as granddaughter, daughter, and mother.
3. How did you feel about the drawings, which represent Malinalli's telling of the story, at the beginning of each chapter? Did you realize they were codices? Were you able to "read" them? Did they enhance your understanding of the story?
4. Malinalli's father tells her "Your word will have eyes and will see, will have ears and will hear, will have the tact to lie with the truth and to tell truths that will seem like lies" (page 9). To what extent was her father's prayer realized?
5. What forms of power might a translator have? Which ones did Malinalli have as a woman and a slave? Which ones do you think she used or was tempted to use? Was she aware of her own power?
6. Malinalli finds meaning in the Christian rituals, linking them to her culture's stories and deities. Were you surprised at how easily she was able to embrace both traditions?
7. Which rituals and symbols are common to both the indigenous Indian religion and to Christianity? How does your own faith affect your response to Malinalli?
8. Toward the end of the tale Malinalli questions the role of human sacrifice and the loss of life in war. Would a woman of that time and status have such progressive ideas? Discuss other times in the novel where she demonstrates such forward thinking. When does she not?
9. History and fiction intertwine in any work of historical fiction. As you read Malinche, did you find yourself wondering which details were historical and which were the fruit of the author's imagination?
10. How do you think the derogatory usage of the word "Malinche" affected the author's desire to reimagine Malinalli's story?
11. Malinalli says, "the search for the gods is the search for oneself"(Page 178). How does faith, the pursuit of meaning, and the desire to understand deity frame this novel?
12. Ultimately, how do you view Malinalli? As a traitor, a martyr, or as a heroine? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Review the images from the front of the book. As a group, create a codex (storytelling through images) of a recent event in your group or town, utilizing sketches, photographs, or symbols but no words or letters. Or each group member could create a codex, which the rest of the group could then attempt to "read."
2. Identify a restaurant or cookbook that specializes in traditional foods of Mexico, such as Rick Bayless Mexican Chicken
(http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?sid=33&pid=405956). Share a meal together that highlights the Indian and Spanish ingredients Malinalli features in her new mestizo dishes.
3. Purchase postcards or look online for the flag of modern-day Mexico and find out what the central image signifies. (Hint: It determined the site of Tenochtitlán.)
4. Seek an opportunity to further understand Malinalli's world by visiting a museum or art exhibit together.
5. Laura Esquivel is a screenwriter, and her first novel became the award-winning film Like Water for Chocolate
. Discuss how you would film her novel Malinche
. If you have read Like Water for Chocolate
, which themes do you see repeated in Malinche