cover image You Dreamed of Empires

You Dreamed of Empires

Álvaro Enrigue, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. Riverhead, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-54479-2

Enrigue (Sudden Death) once again reimagines history in this dynamic and stimulating chronicle of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés’s expedition into the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan in 1519. Despite Cortés’s blunder of trying to hug Emperor Moctezuma upon their initial greeting, Moctezuma welcomes the Spanish expedition into his palace, where the party waits for their official meeting with him. The perspective jumps between a host of characters on both sides, including Moctezuma’s sister and wife, the princess Atotoxtli, who tries to counsel the emperor despite his melancholy and reliance on hallucinogenic drugs; and Jazmín Caldera, Cortés’s third in command who gets lost in the mazelike palace on a quest to find the expedition’s horses. As everyone waits for the fateful meeting, Cortés’s translator wonders whether the Spaniards are “visitors or prisoners.” Enrigue sustains a seductive yet ominous tone that evokes a persistent threat of violence, and he caps things off with a dizzying climactic scene that offers an alternative to the historical record and dovetails with the book’s heavy dose of hallucinogens. Flexing his narrative muscle, Enrigue brings the past to vivid, brain-melting life. Agent: Ria Julien, Frances Goldin Literary. (Jan.)