THE CONQUEST

Yxta Maya Murray, Author, Yxta Maya Murray, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-009359-4

Moving away from the urban barrio settings of her previous works, Murray (Locas; What It Takes to Get to Vegas) entwines the tales of two Latin American women separated by centuries in her third novel. Sara Gonzales is a rare-book restorer at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. While working on a 16th-century manuscript, she becomes engrossed in its story of an Aztec woman captured by Cortés and sent to Europe to entertain the pope. The narrator of the manuscript, "Helen," describes her encounters with the painter Titian, for whom she served as a muse; her many female lovers, including the adored Caterina, a bluestocking nun; and her ever-burning desire to avenge the deaths of her own people by assassinating Cortés, the pope and Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor. Sara's boss and the scholarly community consider the manuscript to be a work of fiction, but Sara believes otherwise—and endeavors to prove Helen's existence and authorship. Meanwhile, there is the issue of Sara's on-again, off-again relationship with Karl, the man she has loved since high school, who is set to marry another woman because Sara has never been able to fully commit. Sara's life, so claustrophobically focused on her work, stands in effective contrast to Helen's swashbuckling escapades across Mediterranean Europe; Sara's quest for personal satisfaction—as well as her thoughtful musings on history and her own sense of displacement as a Latina—are echoed on a grand scale in Helen's encounters with the Europeans. The subplot about Sara's literary sleuthing ties the two stories neatly together and gives the book a satisfying edge of suspense. (Oct. 4)

Forecast:Murray's switch to historical fiction may bewilder her fans, but she acquits herself well and could pick up a few readers looking for the Hispanic version of powerful-women-in-history offerings, like Susan Vreeland's recent novel The Passion of Artemisia.

Reviewed on: 09/09/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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