An epic novel of genius and obsession — apocalyptic, lyrical and erotically charged. Spanning three centuries and two cultures, Hunger’s Brides brings to vivid life the greatest Spanish poet of her time, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and plumbs a mystery that has intrigued writers as diverse as Robert Graves, Diane Ackerman, Eduardo Galeano and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Why did a writer of such gifts silence herself?
At the time of her death in 1695, Juana Inés de la Cruz was arguably the greatest writer working in any European tongue, yet she had never set foot in Europe. Instead she was born among the descendants of the Aztec empire, in the shadow of the mountain pass Cortés and his troops descended on their advance to Montezuma’s capital. A child prodigy from a barbarous wilderness, her beauty and wit provoked a sensation at the viceregal court in Mexico City. But at the age of nineteen, still a favourite of the court, Juana entered a convent, and from that point her life unfolded between the mystery of her sudden flight from palace to cloister, and the enigma of her final vow of silence, signed in blood. After a quarter-century of graceful, often sensuous poetry, plays and theological argument, Sor Juana chose silence, which she maintained until she died of plague at the age of forty-five.
Drawing on chronicles of the conquest and histories of the Inquisition, myth cycles and archeological studies, ancient poetry and early Spanish accounts of blood sacrifice, Hunger’s Brides is a mammoth work of inspired historical fiction framed in a contemporary mystery. In the dead of a Calgary winter night, a man escapes from an apartment in which a young woman lies bleeding — in his arms he clutches a box he has found on her table addressed to him. He is Donald Gregory, a once-respected, now-disgraced, academic. She is Beulah Limosneros, one of his students, and for a brief time his lover. Brilliant, erratic, voracious, she had disappeared two years earlier in Mexico, following the thread of her growing obsession with Sor Juana. Over the ensuing days and weeks, as a police investigation closes in around him, Gregory pieces together the contents of the box she has left him: a poetic journal of her travel in Mexico, diaries, research notes, unposted letters, and a strange manuscript — part biography, part novel — on Sor Juana.
Hunger’s Brides is a dramatic unveiling of three intimate journeys: a man’s forced march to self-knowledge, a great poet’s withdrawal from the world, and a profane mystic’s pilgrimage into modern Mexico, in which the bones of the past constantly poke through a present built on the ruins of the vanquished.
Excerpt from Hunger’s Brides
“From the moment I was first illuminated by the light of reason, my inclination toward letters has been so vehement that not even the admonitions of others . . . nor my own meditations have been sufficient to cause me to forswear this natural impulse that God placed in me . . . that inclination exploded in me like gunpowder. . . .”
—Sor Juana, in a letter of self-defence written to a bishop in 1691, just before she took a vow of silence
From the Hardcover edition.