10 JULY 1936, Page 34


By Eduard Stucken This book (Jarrolds, 8s. 6d.) calls itself " An Epic of the Spanish Invasion of Mexico." Certainly the material of epic is present in one of the most amazing and dramatic stories of history : the magnificent empire of Montezuma with its fabulous capital of gold, gardens and cruel religious rites, conquered by a dashing Spaniard with a small band of adventurers. There is the proud subtle Montezuma, his sister, the Mexican Cassandra ; Olmedo, the Franciscan friar ; Dona Marina, the' beautiful Yucatan slave who acted as interpreter, adviser and lover to Cortes ; and both Spaniards and Mexicans take part in every sort of incident of love, revenge, massacre and sacrifice. All these elements are found in Prescott, but Herr Stucken has not been content with the slow-moving, broad narrative of the American

• historian. From the mass of contemporary accounts and historical documents, he has made a novel on the scale beloved by Teutonic writers. Full of vivid descriptive passages and written with a strong feeling for colour and dramatic situation, the book shows very little sense of proportion and selection. Incident and character are piled on top of each other; neither Cortes nor Montezuma is made the central figure on which events can pivot ; and with this lack of focus, the multitudinous threads of the story are cut off abruptly with the fall of Mexico City, leaving a sense of confusion hardly characteristic of the epic. The author has drawn a detailed picture of the moral and artistic civilisation of the Aztec Empire, and it is therefore surprising to find the word " Barbaric " in .the sub-title. Even a 16th-century Spanish jurist, Zurita, who lived in New Spain for some years, was indignant at that epithet for the brave and gifted race his countrymen had conquered. Herr Stucken's book has been racily translated into a some- what archaic, romantic English which has curious lapses into modern idiom : we find on the same page " princely idler " and " he was an odd chap." Incidentally, the spelling "..Cortez " seems quite unjustified : pronounced in Spanish this yroilid of course be " corteth.",