History •  Latin America and Women

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


Camilla Townsend

Malintzin was the indigenous woman who translated for Hernando Cortés in his dealings with the Aztec emperor Moctezuma in the days of 1519 to 1521. "Malintzin," at least, was what the Indians called her. The Spanish called her doña Marina, and she has become known to posterity as La Malinche. As Malinche, she has long been regarded as a traitor to her people, a dangerously sexy, scheming woman who gave Cortés whatever he wanted out of her own self-interest.

The life of the real woman, however, was much more complicated. She was sold into slavery as a child, and eventually given away to the Spanish as a concubine and cook. If she managed to make something more out of her life--and she did--it is difficult to say at what point she did wrong. In getting to know the trials and intricacies with which Malintzin's life was laced, we gain new respect for her steely courage, as well as for the bravery and quick thinking demonstrated by many other Native Americans in the earliest period of contact with Europeans.

In this study of Malintzin's life, Camilla Townsend rejects all the previous myths and tries to restore dignity to the profoundly human men and women who lived and died in those days. Drawing on Spanish and Aztec language sources, she breathes new life into an old tale, and offers insights into the major issues of conquest and colonization, including technology and violence, resistance and accommodation, gender and power.

"Beautifully written, deeply researched, and with an innovative focus, Malintzin's Choices will become a classic. Townsend deftly walks the fine line between historical documentation and informed speculation to rewrite the history of the conquest of Mexico. Weaving indigenous and Spanish sources the author not only provides contextual depth to understanding Malintzin's critical role as translator and cultural interpreter for Cortes, but in the process she illuminates the broader panorama of choices experienced by both indigenous and Spanish participants. This work not only provides revisionst grist for experts, but will become a required and a popular reading for undergraduates, whether in colonial surveys or in specialty courses."--Ann Twinam, professor of history, University of Texas, Austin

"In this beautifully written and engrossing story of a controversial figure in Mexican history, Camilla Townsend does a wonderful job unraveling the multiple myths about Malintzin (Marina, Malinche), and placing her within her culture, her choices, and the tumultuous times in which she lived. The result is a portrayal of Malintzin as a complex human being forced by circumstances to confront change and adaptation in order to survive."--Susan M. Socolow, Emory University

"Camilla Townsend's text reads beautifully. She has a capacity to express complex ideas in simple, elegant language. This book consists of an interweaving of many strands of analysis. Malinche appears as symbol, as a historical conundrum, and as an actor in one of history's most fascinating dramas. The reader follows Malinche but all the while learns about the Nahuas' world. It is a book that will be extremely valuable for classrooms but also makes an important contribution to the academic literature."--Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, professor of history, Carleton University


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Lyman L. Johnson is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is also the general editor for UNM Press's Dialogos series.

Camilla Townsend is associate professor of history at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is the author of Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma and Tales of Two Cities.

ACCLAIM

". . . a fresh look at the endlessly debated figure . . . Malintzin's Choices is a fascinating, well-written work. . . ."

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Western Historical Quarterly



"Malintzin's Choices is an engrossing and beautifully written story. . . ."

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Journal of Latin American Studies



"Townsend uncovers the nuances and the complexities of Malintzin's life that previous research has ignored, making her book a valuable contribution to feminist and historical scholarship on Malintzin and Mexica social and political relations."

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New Mexico Historical Review



". . . a meticulously researched narrative. . . . Townsend repositions Malintzin with an even hand as a crucial personality and [places] her within the context of a string of historic and momentous episodes whose implications have not always been well understood. . . . [Townsend] has crafted a volume that will make excellent reading for a wide, educated audience."

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A Contra Corriente: A Journal of Social History and Literature in Latin America



". . . an extensively researched and delightfully absorbing story."

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American Historical Review



". . . an entertaining interpretation of the early contact period in central New Spain. . . . innovative. . . ."

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Colonial Latin American Historical Review



"The author achieves her objective skillfully in this interesting, well-written book, without falling into the trip of overinterpretation."

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CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries



"Townsend's book differs in her consistent attempt to show us the world and its events through indigenous eyes . . . the book has a cinematic quality to it . . . well-crafted . . . engrossing. [Townsend's] evocative and engaging writing style does succeed in bringing Malintzin to life. . . . [Malintzin's Choices] is a pleasure to read. . . ."

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The Americas



"[Townsend] pieces together a probably early biography, painstakingly documenting her reasoning in fifty pages of footnotes that read like a detective novel. The joy Townsend makes in these minute discoveries makes the notes a pleasure to read, as does her habit of generously commending other scholars on their work and insights."

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Women's Review of Books



"Townsend's use of indigenous documents brings Malintzin herself much more clearly into focus."

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Itinerario



"Malintzin's Choices is the richest, fullest, most scholarly (hi)story about Malintzin to date."

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Hispanic American Historical Review




6 x 9 in. 304 pages 10 drawings, 22 halftones, 2 maps