Review: The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel León-Portilla

The Broken Spears [1959/97] – ★★★★

The Aztecs…thought the strangers were Quetzalcoatl, and other gods returning from over the sea, while the Spaniards, despite their amazement at the splendours of Tenochtitlan, considered the Aztecs barbarians and thought only of seizing their riches and of forcing them to become Christians and Spanish subjects” (León-Portilla/Kemp, Beacon Press, 1959/97: xxxiii).

On 22 April 1519, Spaniard Don Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico, and on 13 August 1521, the Aztecs, one of the greatest civilisations of South America, fell. The Aztecs, a nation possessing an intricate culture and complex political organisation, were destroyed and plundered beyond all recognition. In this book, Mexican anthropologist Miguel León-Portilla aims to show the invasion of Mexico by the Spaniards in 1519 from the point of view of the native Aztecs. The non-fiction, translated from the Spanish by Lysander Kemp, compiles a number of first-hand account writings from indigenous people, giving the voice to the victims of this unprecedented encounter between two very distinct military powers and cultures.

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Review: Amulet by Roberto Bolaño

Amulet Book CoverAmulet [1999/2006] – ★★★★★

“…those who can see into the past never pay. But I could also see into the future and vision of that kind comes at a high price: life, sometimes, or sanity” [Roberto Bolaño, 1999/2006: 64]. 

Last year I had a goal to read a certain number of books by Asian authors (see my YARC), and so, this year, I set myself a similar goal, but, this time, I will travel to another part of the world and try to read as many books as possible by Latin American authors. I will begin my Latin America Reading Challenge with a short book by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (1952 – 2003) titled Amulet. In this vivid “stream of consciousness” account, our narrator is Auxilio Lacouture, a woman from Uruguay and the “mother of Mexican poetry”. She works part-time at one university in Mexico City and at one point realises that her university (National Autonomous University of Mexico) is being surrounded by an army (event that happened two months before the infamous Tlatelolco massacre of 1968). Auxilio finds herself alone and hiding in the lavatory of the university as the army rounds up the staff and students. At that point she starts to recall her own past, talking to us about her dedication to nurturing the artistic talent of others. As time passes and her hunger and exhaustion increase, her account becomes increasingly hectic and imaginative. Amulet is an unusual novella with one unusual narrator at its heart, which is also strangely compelling as it tries to tell us the truth of the situation in the country and the state of Latin America’s literary talent and tradition through an unconventional and slightly dreamlike voice. Continue reading “Review: Amulet by Roberto Bolaño”