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[737] Aztec – Gary Jennings

1aztec

” As we believed in those days, a hero slain in the service of a mighty lord or sacrificed in homage to a high god was assured of a life everlasting in the most resplendent of afterworlds, where he would be rewarded and regaled with bliss throughout eternity. And now Christianity tells us that we all may hope for an afterlife in a similarly splendid Heaven. But consider. Even the most heroic of heroes dying in the most honorable cause, even the most devout Christian martyr dying in the certainty of reaching Heaven, he will never again know the caress of this world’s moonlight dappling his face as he walks beneath this world’s rustling cypress trees. A trifling pleasure–so small, so simple, so ordinary–but never to be known again. “

Aztec is a tome that takes me four months to read (I started on Jan 1, 2015). Set in 1529 when the king of Spain wants an account of the customs, traditions, and people of the ancient civilization in Mexico that is known as the New Spain. The narrator is also the protagonist, a near-sighted Aztec scribe named Mixtli, and the book chronicles his life through to the Spanish conquest, framed as a final confession to a Spanish bishop. A great deal happens. There’s enough facts and history of the Aztec to counterbalance the some really quite sickening and salacious details. There’s the sense of wonder, the lavish details of the landscape, the description of native civilization. Mixtli recalled how a child is raised. Parents would make every effort to discourage any impurities or awakening sexual appetites. But the cruel disciplinary measure his mother meted out on his sister had exactly the contrary effect. She later sank so low being “astraddle on the road.” She even attempted incest but I would spare the details. Weird and indulgent sex is not an uncommon occurrence in this novel.

The adventures often culminate in excessive violence and sexual depravity. In another episode, Mixtli’s friend suffers an accident and has to undergo complete castration, balls and all, with only a hole left for the urethra. Later on, Mixtli and his friend are alone in the desert, an obvious opportunity for “a good time.” However, Mixtli uses his friend’s urethra as the nearest available orifice. To say the least, the sins of Aztec against the reader would make a lengthy list.

While it’s difficult to admit and/or believe, there might be fairly good book lurking under all the grossness and ridiculousness. Jennings’s portrayal of Aztec culture is actually sensitive. Discussion of Aztec civilization usually is narrowed to human sacrifice in English scholarship. Jennings corrects this insularity and presents other aspects in a positive light: law, trade, government, and the like. Human sacrifice is just one of them. Jennings also emphasizes on the different in religion between the Indians and the new white contemporary.

At 1038 pages, the book is grossly overwritten, unless reader enjoys that roller coaster ride of elevating to some transcending epic and plummeting down to total farce and depravity, and then up and down again. The numerous, excited engorged accounts of atrocity and bloodshed, the overripe sex scenes that become almost ridiculous in their frequency and comically graphic, and bawdy comedies of manner—all become unbearably painful. It’s branded as historical fiction, but really is no more than a chronicle of weird and depraved sex pit against an ancient civilization. This book is it for me for this series.

1038 pp. Forge Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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