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Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2005 (Spanish)
WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2013 – Gioconda Belli’s The Scroll of Seduction weaves together two stories: the life of Juana of Castile in sixteenth century Spain and the story of Lucía, a young girl in 1970s Madrid. Perceptive and extensively researched, Belli’s narrative reveals a more human side of the ill-fated queen of Spain through Lucía’s experiences. Even though Belli does a superb job at redeeming an often-misunderstood historical figure, the story of Lucía and her affair with a much older man does not come across as well.
Juana of Castile (1479-1555), better known now as Juana la Loca, “Juana de Mad,” was a widely misrepresented figure in Spanish history. The third child of Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, Juana was not brought up to inherit the throne. However, after the death of her older siblings, she became the unlikely heir after her mother Isabel’s death in 1504. By then, she was married to Philip of Burgundy, known as Felipe el Hermoso, “Philip the Handsome,” with whom she shared a widely chronicled passionate love affair.
Treated as mentally ill from early in her marriage, Juana was never allowed to rule Spain directly. Blaming her mental health, she was kept confined from the time of Felipe’s death in 1506 until her death in 1555, while her father, son, and other men ruled in her place- a total of 49 years of imprisonment.
Modern historians question whether Juana was truly mentally ill, or whether her natural reaction to forced confinement and separation from her children for decades was used as an excuse for others to assume power in her place.
In the novel, Lucía is a 17-year-old orphaned young woman who has been living in a convent in Madrid since her parent’s death. Her rich Latin American grandparents have a minor role in her life, as she is raised amid the strict and quiet life of the convent. On one of the grandparents’ visits to Madrid, when Lucía meets Manuel Denia, a history professor who serves as a tour guide for the family.
Forty-something Manuel and convent-raised Lucía end up forming a friendship where he tells her the story of Juana la Loca. Manuel, from an old and respected Spanish family has his own connection with Juana: his family was responsible for Juana’s confinement for many decades.
As the story of Juana and Felipe begins to take over her life, Lucía finds herself in a strange and new situation where the actions and feelings of a queen who lived centuries ago are stronger than anything in her present life.
Interpreting her apparent madness as a normal reaction to her unjust circumstances, Belli reveals a different queen Juana from the one depicted in history books. While her so-called madness was unquestioned in her time and for centuries since, modern researchers and writers have inquired whether she was really as mad as she was made out to be.
In The Scroll of Seduction the reader is presented with a very sane Juana who simply reacts to her situation and the injustices in her life in a way that most people would react to a state of utter powerlessness.
While the author achieves her goal of making readers see a different side of Juana, who maybe wasn’t as loca as history made her out to be, she is perhaps less successful with the story of Lucía and Manuel. The “modern” love affair lacked the depth and purpose –and propriety- that was so present in the story of Juana and Felipe.
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