Here’s my standard disclaimer. I found this title when I discovered Amazon Kindle. It was a public domain book, so I decided to give it a try because… Free. The Author did not send me a copy to review, and did not request that I review this book. A rating will follow this review on Goodreads and Amazon.
I review books based on the story itself. I’m not an editor and I’m not reading these books to proof them for Authors. I’ve read classics or best sellers with mistakes in them. The only time I will let mistakes effect my review is if the mistakes made reading the book cumbersome. At that point, I will just give it a lower number rating while reviewing the actual story itself.
I don’t like reading a review that is basically the back cover blurb, or something that gives away too much of the story. Personally, I like suspense. I like to discover the details of the story as I read them. So, please enjoy this spoiler free book review!
I’m happy to announce that the fourteenth book I’m reviewing on my blog is a memoir called The True History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo.
John Ingram Lockhart ; the author who translated this work, calls this The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Written by Himself, Containing a True and Full Account of the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico and New Spain. Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s memoir’s original title in Spanish is, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España. My photo shows Vol 1 of 2, but I’m going to review both volumes in this one review. This is a classic non-fiction.
Why did I read this book? Easy, it was free! That and I’m a history buff. I remember the story of Cortez defeating Montezuma, but realized that I didn’t know the fine details. He got permission, went to Mexico, kidnapped Montezuma, and story over, right? Wrong! There’s so much more. The great thing is that one of his men decided to write his memoirs. That’s where we meet Bernal Diaz.
Diaz was a Conquistador, through and through. He participated in other conquests in the Caribbean as well as a failed incursion into the Yucatan or two. He even stepped foot on Flordia! This memoir begins with Diaz leaving Spain for the new world. He and other Conquistadors traveled from territory to territory until they got to Havana. This is where I found out that Cortez was heading an expedition for someone else! They made their way to the Yucatan and suffered many setbacks and battles. Once in the Yucatan, Diaz tells us how Cortez breaks the contract and takes over. From there, they have to rally more supplies and troops to continue the expedition into the Yucatan.
While this is all happening, the Governor of Cuba is trying to have Cortez arrested and get his expedition back. Cortez has to do everything to get permission from Spain to sanction what he did. Diaz tells us of all the intrigue that followed. Boats taking roundabout ways to avoid detection. Fighting, and trying to gather as much gold as possible. They also rescue a Spaniard from Natives, and this helps the expedition with their translator needs. Another Spaniard stays with the Natives and fights Spaniards later on. They fight and ally with Natives to gain a foothold on the peninsula. Dona Marina arrives and is instrumental for translating with Montezuma.
There’s so much more. He goes into detail about their fighting and ally making in the interior and eventual entry into Tenochtitlan. How they befriend Montezuma and then kidnap him. How another expedition lands to arrest Cortez and how they are won over. La Noche Triste, or The night of sorrow… The running battle to the land of their allies. The ambushes and death of others who didn’t know about the fight in Tenochtitlan. Regrouping on the coast and then going back to Tenochtitlan. The battle for the causeways… The naval battles on the lake.. The sacrifices… The sacking of the cities around the lake. Taking the city back, block by block. Steel and horse warfare against obsidian and wood. You are right there with the Conquistadors during the battle. Less than a thousand men fighting tens of thousands of men, and dominating.
The book doesn’t end there though. You get to see why the Conquistadors fought each other, and butted heads with Cortez. You see how he favors some and maltreats others. Once they control the Aztecs, Conquistadors either stay with Cortez or leave to conquer more of the Yucatan and Central America. Diaz details his further expeditions and how he becomes a governor himself, in Guatemala. This is one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read. Diaz was no commoner, but he wasn’t a leader either. He was distinguished and a very capable Soldier. I read his account, and can’t help but to smile. The same problems, issues, and fighting between junior and senior personnel are the same today as they were during Diaz’s time!
And why did he feel the need to document all of this? He felt that accounts put out by people who were not around were distorting the truth. They focused too much on Cortez and Cortez’s favorites. Diaz corrected that. He even went as far as to name each member of the expedition at the end, even the men they took on from the following expedition that was sent to arrest them. Not only does he name them, he tells us something about them and the manner of their death if they were dead by the time he wrote his memoir. He wrote it at a very advanced age, so many had died by then. Especially during The Night of Sorrow. This was really telling of the kind of man Diaz was. He was for the troops, and wanted the troops to get the recognition that they deserved. Cortez’s victory wasn’t his alone. His men did hard work, and many were killed. Some brutally. Diaz ensured that those men will be remembered forever, and that their deaths wouldn’t go ignored. That really hit home for me.
Okay, so I gave a glaring review for Diaz’s memoir. I found it riveting. This is a book I can read over and over. It’s just so compelling… What they went through! I think I’m so wrapped up into it, because I fought in an invasion of another country… So, with that being said… I’m not glorifying the massacre of Native Americans. I’m not dehumanizing them, or trying to take anything away from them. They were people too, and they died. Their deaths were as tragic as a Spaniard’s death. This isn’t a review talking the pros and cons of conquest or judging the characters on the morality of what happened. This was a memoir written in a time when life was hard. Pain and death was the way of life everywhere in the world. Fighting was a way of life.
The review was on his account of what happened, not a discussion on what was wrong or right. The good thing is, Diaz didn’t trivialize or degrade the Natives in his account. To him, they were great warriors and fought with skill. They were professional and strong. They were fearsome. Their technology just didn’t stand a chance against cavalry and steel. That and they couldn’t stand against the countless allies the Spaniards made because they resented the Aztec’s brutality towards them before the arrival of the Spaniards.
I enjoyed this memoir from start to finish. His first hand account of conquest is like nothing you’ll ever read. I only wish that every famous battle or war in Human History had first hand accounts such as this. I recommend this book to others. I rate this book 5 out of 5!
-PRP3 The Author. January 07, 2017