Thursday, November 4, 2010

Julie's Review: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

Summary: Epic in scope, Mayo's impressively researched novel set in mid-19th century Mexico City mines the true story of the short turbulent reign of the archduke of Austria, Maximilian von Hapsburg, who was made emperor of Mexico in 1864. Childless and desperate for an heir, the emperor makes substantial monetary promises to the parents of a young boy named Agustin. With much trepidation, they agree to give over the boy, who becomes a pawn in a custody battle that begins when Maximilian adopts the two-year-old Agustin with the hopes of having him inherit the throne. Agustin's American mother, Madame de Iturbide (née Alice Green), soon becomes dissatisfied with the arrangement and pleads with Maximilian to return her son. Maximilian has Alice deported, which sets off an international brawl. Maximilian finally concedes as Mexico devolves into bankruptcy and lawlessness and Maximilian's wife, Carlota, becomes increasingly unmoored. Lengthy, expository, meandering and grandiose, Mayo's reanimation of a crucial period in Mexican history should satisfy history buffs and those in the mood for an engaging story brimming with majestic ambition.

Review: Let me be honest, I do not know much about history...well Mexican history. I pretty much know we stole Texas from them but that's a bout it. :) So when I was offered the chance to read a book focusing on a period in their history I jumped on it. Read and learn something new? Count me in!

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is a sweeping novel that shows how messed up politics have always been and how monarchs tried to build empires any where they saw fit. In the last 1800s when America was going through our Civil War, Mexico was at a state of unrest as well. The French had come in and taken over and were now at war with various factions of bandits throughout the country. Enter the Austrian's and Maximilian von Hapsburg. It always amazes me at how incestuous the royal families are. Via marriage the Hapsburg's are related to the French Monarchy and this has a huge influence on how things are handled. Essentially, Maximilian was forced to go and be the Emperor of Mexico and give up his crown in Austria. There always seems to be a lot of in fighting in a monarchy and what better way to get rid of competition then to send him across the ocean. While the story takes place during Maximilian's reign, it is really the story of the Itrubide's that move the book along.

The main story for me, was the Itrubide's longing for power in Mexico. Their longing to be recognized for what their father did for the country by uniting all of them in one country. They returned from exile in the U.S. hopeful that the country would be returned to them but it was only a matter of time until they were pushed into exile again.

Emperor Maximilian wants to claim the youngest Itrubide as the heir apparent to the thrown and by doing this will ensure that the boy has an excellent upbringing and education. In order to do that, his parents must flee the country and vow never to return. Of course, they receive a "pension" (aka bribe) to do so.

Nothing can stop a mother's love and after a while Alicia Itrubide decided that she didn't want to be without her son, Agustin. She goes back to Mexico to plead with Maximilian to let her have her son back. I won't go into the details about what goes on during this time.
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is a novel about family and what it means to love your child/children. How one decision that seems right at the time, turns out to not be the right one and how do you turn the course to make it right?

I enjoyed the familial aspect of the novel. Since I have very limited knowledge on Mexican history, I did find the novel confusing at times. There are a lot of different players in the book and they are hard to keep straight. I felt that maybe a family tree or some kind of flow chart would have been helpful. I have seen this done in other historical fiction novels (e.g. Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen).

There is no doubt in my mind that C.M. Mayo has tremendous knowledge of Mexico and that she loves that country fiercely. She's a gifted writer and definitely knows how to spin history with an interesting fictional story.

If you are looking for a historical fiction book that doesn't take place in Europe, then
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is the novel for you.

Final Take: 3.25/5


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