5 books by Mexican women about the history of Mexico

Shaped by pre-Columbian traditions, Spanish colonization and Catholicism, Mexico is a diverse and complicated country that is impossible to understand just by visiting or living there. To understand Mexico, you have to read through it.

Each book on this list is set in a different period in the country’s history, from the early years of the Spanish conquest to today’s Mexico.

Each book, written in a powerful female voice, offers an insight into the challenging context in which women and other vulnerable groups have lived. With richly researched plots and vivid descriptions of the past, these five books are sure to give you a new appreciation for Mexican women authors.

The books are presented in chronological order (depending on their setting) and include both historical fiction and journalistic accounts of events in Mexico’s history.

1. Malinche (2006) by Laura Esquivel

This book tells the fascinating story of one of the most controversial figures in Mexican history: la Malinche, the indigenous woman hated by many Mexicans for her role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

The novel follows the life of Malinalli (later known as La Malinche), from being given away as a slave to acquiring an important role as interpreter and lover of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.

Malinalli believed that the gods had sent Cortés to free her people from Mexica rule. With her help, Cortés was able to form strategic alliances with communities under Mexica rule, which ultimately led to the fall of Tenochtitlán.

As the love affair between Malinalli and Cortés unfolds, readers gain a deeper insight into key historical events that contributed to the Spanish Empire’s victory over the Mexica Empire, and why La Malinche was accused of treason centuries later.

If you’ve ever heard the word malinchista in Mexican slang, now you know it was inspired by the story of La Malinche to refer to those who prefer “foreign” to Mexican.

2. Like Water for Chocolate (1989) by Laura Esquivel

Another entry from Laura Esquivel, “Like Water for Chocolate” (Como Agua para Chocolate) refers to the boiling point, which is what water must be to make hot chocolate.

A lyrical and charming magical realist novel, this story accurately depicts the social landscape of rural Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s. The book was also on our list of must-read Mexican classics.

Using homemade recipes in monthly installments, the story depicts the forbidden romance between Tita and Pedro, who was cursed from the start by Tita’s family. As the youngest of the family, Tita is never allowed to marry to care for her widowed mother.

The magical recipes that Tita cooks take readers into the lives of a household run by women as they live their lives with a tyrannical mother capable of frightening a revolutionary army.

An instant international bestseller, Like Water for Chocolate has resonated with a wide audience thanks to its creative portrayal of universal themes such as love, betrayal, passion, family traditions and food.

3. In the Shadow of the Angel (1995) by Kathryn Blair

‘In The Shadow of the Angel’ is set over three decades of transformation in Mexico City (A la Sombra del Angel) tells the compelling true story of Antonieta Rivas Mercado, daughter of famed architect Antonio Rivas Mercado, who built the Angel of Independence Monument in Mexico City.

The story is narrated by Kathryn Blair, the wife of Antonieta’s only son, and is based on interviews she conducted with her husband Albert and the rest of Antonieta’s surviving family.

It begins when Antonieta, at the age of 31, takes her own life in Notre Dame, Paris. What drove Antonieta to commit suicide? The book then jumps back in time, to Antonieta’s birth. It follows her life during the regime of Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican Revolution, and the country’s first attempts to become a democratic nation.

With a deep love for Mexico, the fine arts and a great fortune, Antonieta played an important role in shaping the country’s cultural landscape while also fighting for women’s rights, indigenous rights and education.

4. The noise of the bees (2015) by Sofia Segovia

Following the Latin American tradition of magical realism, Segovia takes us to a remote location near Monterrey, Nuevo León, against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.

The epic story is about love, loss, pain, hope and various social issues including national identity, traditional values, women’s roles, revenge and ambition.

The book begins in the early 20th century when a baby surrounded by bees is found under a bridge by Nana Reja, the Morales family’s nanny. Despite the superstition and hatred surrounding the child – due to a hollow in his face that prevents him from speaking – the family adopts the baby.

Simonopio, as he is called, grows up and develops a fantastic relationship with bees, who protect and guide the boy amid the turbulent times of the revolution and the fundamental changes that the Morales family is destined to experience.

5. Massacre in Mexico (1971) by Elena Poniatowska

Massacre in Mexico tells the life and death of Mexican students who protested against police repression in Mexico City a week before the 1968 Olympic Games. The massacre occurred during a peaceful rally on October 2 at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, during the administration of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.

The book is a journalistic collection of testimonies from students, parents, workers and others who were part of the movement or witnessed the events. The text is divided into two parts, with an appendix containing a chronology.

According to Mexico National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH)the Tlatelolco massacre was the culmination of several state crimes that could be considered crimes against humanity.

La Noche de Tlatelolco, as it is known in Spanish, has helped expose a disturbing episode in Mexico’s authoritarian regime, highlighting a wider wave of repression against social movements in Latin America.

Gabriela Solís is a Mexican lawyer based in Dubai and full-time writer. She covers business, culture, lifestyle and travel for Mexico News Daily. You can follow her life in Dubai in her blog Dunas y Palmeras.

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