Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico

Article excerpt

Latin American

Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico. By CamUla Townsend. [Diálogos.] (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2006. Pp. xvi, 287. $23.95 paperback.)

CamUla To wnsend's new book, Maltntztn's Choices: An Lndlan Woman In the Conquest of Mexico, is a worthy addition to the University of New Mexico Press's fine series of books, "Diálogos," edited by Lyman Johnson. Given the historiographical impact of women's and gender history, it is not surprising that Malintzin (or Malinche, as she is also known) has garnered increased attention from historians, ethnohistorians, and art historians. However sparse the historical record about Malintzin may be, more is known about her than about any other indigenous woman of conquest-era Mesoamerica.Yet there are two prob- lems any scholar writing about her wUl encounter: first, the paucity of sources; second, the fact that her Ufe was atypical. Townsend's approaches to these problems are worthy of consideration.

Her primary solution to the first problem is to place Malintzin's life in the context of her times, explaining the complexities of Malintzin's gender and ethnic identity, her role in the conquest, and describing the lives of her descendants as weU. WhUe placing some emphasis on Malintzin's Inner IUe by asking how she might have understood and what she might have thought about the many dramatic events that shaped her life, much of the book is an examination of the process of conquest, emphasizing indigenous perspectives and experiences. Showing herself to be an energetic researcher and judicious reader of sources, Townsend takes a fresh look at both the conquest historiography and sources. Describing the indigenous participants as rational actors who understood the Spanish to control a highly effective mUitary technology, she sees that technology, in combination with the spread of smaUpox beginning in 1521, as having led to the defeat of the Mexica.

Townsend organizes her narration of these events around the life and role of Malintzin. The decentering of Cortés is more than mere rhetorical strategy, because Townsend ably demonstrates Malintzin's important role as translator, strategist, and consort of Cortés. …

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