Hunger's Brides by Paul Anderson.
Random House of Canada. ISBN: 0-679-31088-6
In the dead of night a man hears a siren. The place is ransacked, its walls daubed in crude, red glyphs. The bathroom cabinet mirror above him is smashed. Under him lies a woman in a stucco of blood and bright shards. It is forty degrees below zero outside.
He lifts his head – the siren is nearer.
He escapes with a box, struggles over the railing. Home, he sits locked in his study, wife and child asleep upstairs. At first light he is still sifting the box’s contents for the evidence against him. She was a researcher, one of his graduate students, and for a brief time, his lover. Brilliant, erratic, voracious, she disappeared two years ago. It might have occurred to him she was in Mexico.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, and as the police gather evidence of their own, he pieces together what she has left him: a poetic journal of her travel in Mexico, research notes, unposted letters and a strange manuscript – part biography, part novel – on one of history’s most obsessively fascinating women.
The last great poet of the Spanish Golden Age, Juana Inés de la Cruz was arguably, at time the time of her death in 1695, the greatest writer working in any European tongue. Yet she never set foot in Europe: she was born among the descendants of the shattered Aztec empire, below the mountain pass Cortés’s troops descended in their advance on Montezuma’s capital.
Her genius already legendary – a child prodigy from a barbarous wilderness – her beauty and wit provoking a sensation at the court of New Spain, she entered a convent at the age of nineteen. Her convent life unfolds between the mystery of this sudden flight from palace to cloister, and the enigma of a final text signed in blood, after a quarter century of graceful and often sensuous poetry.
Drawing on chronicles of the Conquest and histories of the Inquisition, myth cycles and archaeological studies, ancient poetry and early Spanish accounts of blood sacrifice, Hunger’s Brides records a soaring panorama in the Mexican muralist tradition of Orozco and Tamayo.
And against this backdrop three intimate journeys: a man’s forced march to self-knowledge, a great poet’s withdrawal from the world, and a profane mystic’s pilgrimage into modern Mexico ... from its apocalyptic capital to the hyper-real beauty of the Yucatan peninsula, Hunger’s Brides retraces the path of the Conquest of the American continent and the American mind.