Nobody knows exactly what happened in the days and months after Spanish soldiers crossed the flower-trimmed causeway into Tenochtitlan to meet the Aztec emperor in 1519. If you believe Hernán Cortés, the conquistador who logged his version of events in audaciously self-serving letters to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Aztec leader, Moctezuma, capitulated immediately, believing the Spaniards’ arrival fulfilled a prophecy that in turn (conveniently for Cortés) legitimized the conversion of his people to Christianity. Recent studies have offered damning rebuttals of this “mythistorical” version of events (see Matthew Restall, Camilla Townsend), but significant gaps in the record remain, including details as fundamental as who killed Moctezuma.
What we do know is that in less than a century, 90 percent of the Indigenous population had been wiped out by European diseases and slavery, and Tenochtitlan had become Mexico City. Given the state of the record, the contemporary hunger for recentering the perspectives of colonized peoples and the transgressive thrill of overturning received narratives, “the Meeting,” as Restall calls it, makes for a compelling subject for historical fiction.
For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.