Monday, April 4, 2011


Title: Aztec
Author: Gary Jennings
Year: 1980
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3

Okay... here we go. Prepare for a deluge.
Aztec is a wide-spanning, incredibly detailed, indefatigably researched piece of historical literature, regarded as one of the most accurate in current existence. Gary Jennings is a master story teller- in Tlilectec Mixtli, he has created an incredibly human character who relates his life in stunning detail. And throughout his "abnormally long years", we come to know Mixtli intimately and, to borrow from Cummings, "laugh his joys and cry his griefs".
Aztec opens with a letter addressed from Bishop Zumarraga of Mexico to Emperor Don Carlos I of Spain, placing the book's year at 1529. The priests of Mexico City (inside the desecrated House of Song of ancient Tenochtitlan) press an old Mixtli to tell them completely the story of his life, which he happily does. After all, he is a "word knower"- a scribe.
Mixtli begins the story of his life at birth, and from that moment on, he leaves out nary a detail, and granted the native peoples' penchant for loose sex, it becomes awkward in many places. However, Jennings's research on the original Nahuatl tongue is impeccable- most of the terms that Mixtli uses for cultural objects are first listed in Nahuatl and then in English. Reading the language became a little wearying after awhile- I couldn't take in too much of this book in one sitting.
However, the story arcs are beautiful. Mixtli's voice is amusing and amazingly contemporary, making fun of many aspects of Mexica culture, other native peoples, and the Spanish priests' hypocritical behaviors. He often states that he was "heathen" before, but under the false words, I could detect a pride in his original faith in Tonatiu, the sun god. He is a little ashamed of many of his people's violent traditions, such as the Flowery Wars (wars fought purely for the purpose of obtaining sacrifices for the gods) or the sacrificial rites of Xipe Totec.
However, we also feel Mixtli's pain at losing those he loves. I wept with joy when he married Zyanya, Always, and had their daughter. I also shed tears when he lost her in the floods of Ahuitzotl. I was appropriately shocked in the court of Jadestone Doll (which I won't detail here). And when I found out the fate of Tzitzitlini, I wept harder than before.
Altogether, this book is a little too long. Don't get me wrong- it's beautifully written, and covers an incredible expanse of time, from the old Motecuzoma's rule until the fall of Tenochtitlan, in breathtaking detail. Everything, from the farthest south of the Mexica's rule to the history of Texcoco, is told from beginning to end. And although the information is told incredibly and there is so much of it, I began to lose interest about when the floods ended.
Also, the detailed amount of sex in this book is rather R-rated. For most indigenous cultures, sex is a common topic, but Mixtli is promiscuous, to say the least, throughout his bachelorhood; there are many sex scenes, and Jennings describes almost all of them from beginning to end. From his incestuous relationship with Tzitzilini to his loving marriage with Zyanya, Mixtli certainly sowed his wild oats. Now, I don't personally have a problem with sex in books- as it's a necessary part of the story- the number of scenes was just unnecessary (especially the one with Cozcatl). That's just a personal preference, though.
There are a number of books in the Aztec series, and although I haven't read all of them, this is a great one. Unfortunately, Mr. Jennings passed away in 1999, so there won't be any more, but this is an enduring work that he will be remembered for. I enjoyed it immensely.
I picked up my copy from the local library, but I had to renew it to finish it. I think it costs around $20.00 at B&N, but it's probably cheaper at your local Bookman's or Hastings. So, grab it from the library if you can. It's a good, lengthy read.
That's all for me today. Keep reading, my dear pageturners.

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