Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Briefly Noted

When Montezuma Met Cortés, by Matthew Restall (Ecco). In 1519, the emperor Montezuma received the conquistador Hernán Cortés and some of his men as guests in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. Within two years, Montezuma was dead, the Aztecs routed, and the city destroyed. This revisionist history contests received views of Cortés as either swashbuckling hero or bloviating villain, of the Aztecs as cannibals, and of Montezuma as a meek, mystical king who voluntarily capitulated. Restall skillfully describes a subtler story of relationships both loving and coercive. He offers a particularly bold interpretation of Montezuma’s devotion to his palace zoo, arguing that he saw Cortés and his men as exotic creatures and hoped to learn by studying them.

First Time Ever, by Peggy Seeger (Faber & Faber). This whirling memoir follows the folksinger and activist through international tours, crises in her famous musical family, and a long, all-consuming relationship with the British singer Ewan MacColl. Seeger’s conversational prose has a flair for capturing the common (a 1938 Chevy “had a vertical fish-mouth and a fat lady’s rump”) and the cataclysmic; remembering her mother’s early death, she writes, “I try to see and hear things for her, to lure her spirit back from the lost body.” Colorful characters flit in and out, and, remembering them, Seeger, who is now eighty-two, is often wistful. Of one friend, she writes, “He died, but he is still in my present tense.”

Brass, by Xhenet Aliu (Random House). …

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