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An epic novel of genius and obsession — apocalyptic, lyrical, erotically charged. Spanning three centuries and two cultures, Hunger’s Brides brings to vivid life the greatest Spanish poet of her time, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and plumbs a mystery that has intrigued writers as diverse as Robert Graves, Diane Ackerman, Eduardo Galeano and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Why did a writer of such gifts silence herself?
At the time of her death in 1695, Juana Inés de la Cruz was arguably the greatest writer working in any European tongue, yet she had never set foot in Europe. Instead she was born in the shadow of the mountain pass Cortés and his troops descended on their advance to Montezuma’s capital. A child prodigy from a barbarous wilderness, her beauty and wit provoked a sensation at the viceregal court in Mexico City. But at the age of nineteen, still a favourite of the court, Juana entered a convent, and from that point her life unfolded between the mystery of her sudden flight from palace to cloister, and the enigma of her final silence, following a vow of contrition signed in blood. After a quarter-century of graceful, often sensuous poetry, plays and theological argument, Sor Juana chose silence, which she maintained until she died of plague at the age of forty-six.
Drawing on chronicles of the conquest and histories of the Inquisition, myth cycles and archeological studies, ancient poetry and early Spanish accounts of blood sacrifice, Hunger’s Brides is a mammoth work of inspired historical fiction framed in a contemporary mystery... Hunger’s Brides is also a dramatic unveiling of 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, where the present is all-too-visibly built on the ruins of the vanquished.
On a frigid winter's night, a man escapes from an apartment in which a young woman lies bleeding. In his hands he clutches a box he has found there. He is Donald Gregory, a once-respected college professor and serial adulterer whose last affair has left his career in ruins. She is Beulah Limosneros, one of his students and for a brief time his lover. She had disappeared into Mexico two years earlier, following her obsession with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
A police investigation closes in around Gregory; fearful of incriminating evidence Beulah may have against him, he sorts through the box's contents: translated poems of Sor Juana, a journal of travels in the Yucatan, research notes on the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the Inquisition, diary entries concerning him, and a strange manuscript written mostly in the mesmerizing voice of one of the 17th century's greatest poets, perhaps the greatest woman writer since Sappho.