Monday, April 18, 2011

Anna Lanyon and the Mexican Inquisition

  Years ago I read Anna Lanyon's book Malinche's Conquest. It tells the story of Malinche, a Mexica (Aztec) woman who was Cortes' lover and mistress and - as much as a fifteenth century indigenous mistress could be, his cultural attache. At the time I was also reading the likes of Hugh Thomas' epic 811 page The Conquest of Mexico, and The Penguin History of Latin America as well various academic texts about the translation of Mayan glyphs. To read the unique historical voice of Malinche, told in accessible narrative form was a welcome break from the weighty and sometimes dry, historical accounting that can be found in books with very specific subject matter.
   In Fire and Song The Story of Luis de Carvajal and the Mexican Inquisition it's the voice of Luis de Carvajal, a sixteenth century Sephardim, a Jew who was born on the Iberian Peninsula, and his family as they journey from persecution in Spain and Portugal to persecution in New Spain, the enigmatic and vast land we now know as Mexico.
   Luis' voice has been stored throughout history in the form of not only the detailed records that were kept by Inquisitors but also in his 'Book of Miracles', where he recorded, in minute writing and unpunctuated detail, the story of his family, their belief in the Law of Moses, the daily trials of keeping their religious beliefs secret as well as day to day life for their family.
   This book is a historically accurate, detailed yet straightforward read that tells a story of a man persecuted for his beliefs that stills resonates today.
   In the podcasted interview Anna also talks about what it is like researching the Mexico of the 16th Century and the experience of using the archives in Mexico City, which are housed in an old gaol. She recounts myths about how the Jews arrived in Spain and Portugal, and she talks affectionately about the three generations of the Carvajal family she came to know through her research.

Fire and Song
by Anna Lanyon
Allen and Unwin, 2011

The interview featured in the podcast will also be broadcast on The Book Show on Edge Radio

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