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La Capital

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

LA CAPITAL traces the forces that have molded Mexico City. The Aztecs were the first to alter the basin shadowed by volcanic peaks where the vast city sprawls today. A remarkable and ruthless people, the Aztecs chose to consolidate the surrounding area as they built a powerful empire. Kandell details their religious rituals and the seemingly endless human sacrifices which were made to appease their gods. He bluntly states that cannibalism played a role in their society. As with many empires, their demise came as much from weakness within as from the invasion of hostile warriors.

Under the command of Hernan Cortes, Spanish troops landed in Mexico on April 21, 1519, and were welcomed by the Aztecs. This welcome was short-lived since the Spanish had come not as friends, but as conquerors. Spain was to control Mexico for three centuries and to finance much of its international endeavors with silver from Mexican mines. More devastating than the conquest itself was the introduction of Spanish diseases to the indigenous population: Disease decimated the Indians. Colonial life was not easy, either, as food shortages and floods made life unbearable at various intervals in Mexico City. Kandell delineates both the decline of the native culture and the development of the colonial culture; he includes quotes from firsthand accounts to suggest what daily life was really like.

Independence in 1821 did not bring the general population the relief for which they had yearned so long. Mexico--and especially its capital--plummeted into chaos. The privileged few managed to save themselves as best they could, but the ordinary citizen suffered constant fear of starvation, disease, robbery, and...

(The entire section is 411 words.)