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    Review of THE CONQUEST by Yxta Maya Murray

    Rayo, 2002

    Book restorer Sara Gonzales has developed an obsession for an obscure Spanish novel--probably written by an infamous priest but purporting to be the autobiography of an Aztec woman, brought back from the conquest of Mexico by Cortez. In Europe, 'Helen' and other Aztec jugglers entertain the Pope (and try to kill him with magic), spend time with Titian and other giants of the era, plot to assassinate the Emperor, and wallow in Lesbian love. Sara is convinced that the autobiography is true and that the attribution to a Priest must be false and her fascination is so complete that she can barely tear herself away to see her great love--a Marine now engaged to another woman after Sara proved herself unwilling to finally set a date and get married.

    THE CONQUEST is a literary work, filled with discussions about life's meaning, discussions of whether ancient books should be allowed to rot rather than be preserved, and meandering examination of Sara's relationship with her mother. Author Yxta Maya Murray uses a fairy-tale style of language to lend a dreamy quality to both the contemporary and the ancient stories that she interweaves.

    I found Sara's story to be somewhat pathetic--as she attempts to break up her love's attempt to escape her spell and seize some happiness out of life. Her obsession with Helen's story clearly relates to her Mexican/Indian background but also, although this is not explicitly addressed, to her own inability to relate to life and the real world. Helen lived in a world of magic, but her story has the benefit of adventure, murder, famous people, and the great inquisitions of the era to lend it strength. Whether Helen's eventual choices make her a hero or an anti-hero is something left for the reader to contemplate.

    Despite Yxta Maya Murray's strong writing, I found Sara unlikable and unsympathetic. Still, Helen's intriguing (although flawed) stroll through history definitely makes THE CONQUEST worth reading.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 6/14/04

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