Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Álvaro Enrigue’s new novel You Dreamed of Empires, translated by Natasha Wimmer, which will be published by Riverhead in January 2024. Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:
One morning in 1519, conquistador Hernán Cortés entered the city of Tenochtitlan – today’s Mexico City. Later that day, he would meet the emperor Moctezuma in a collision of two worlds, two empires, two languages, two possible futures. Cortés was accompanied by his nine captains, his troops, and his two translators: Friar Aguilar, a taciturn, former slave, and Malinalli, a strategic, former princess. Greeted at a ceremonial welcome meal by the steely princess Atotoxli, sister and wife of Moctezuma, the Spanish nearly bungle their entrance to the city. As they await their meeting with Moctezuma – who is at a political, spiritual, and physical crossroads, and relies on hallucinogens to get himself through the day and in quest for any kind of answer from the gods – the Spanish are ensconced in the labyrinthine palace. Soon, one of Cortés’s captains, Jazmín Caldera, overwhelmed by the grandeur of the city, begins to question the ease with which they were welcomed into the city, and wonders at the risks of getting out alive, much less conquering the empire.
Here’s the cover, designed by Grace Han:
I fell in love with the cover, in the first place, because there is lightness in it. The gravitas of the historical encounter of Cortés and Moctezuma is enormous and I recognize that my sense of humor is very Mexican—non explicit and opaque—, so I loved the fact that the designer of the cover understood that even when the historical event that the novel meditates on affected millions of lives—including ours—, the novel itself is a psychedelic comedy. While I was writing You Dream of Empires, after years and years of research about the first contact between Spaniards and Mexicas, I wanted to express mainly how disorienting I think it was for both sides. Reading the very few original sources—indigenous and European—we have, its very clear, at least for me, that on November 8, 1519, none in any of the sides was really understanding anything. The cover expresses, in a playful way, the anguished vertigo that the lack of understanding produces.
The interest of Moctezuma in getting the Spaniards’ horses is what detonates the plot of You Dream of Empires and one of them is in the heart of the cover. And I have to say that no matter how playful the novel is, how anti-historical, I seriously believe—again, after years and years of researching the subject because is what I teach—that the only reason that could explain why Moctezuma brought the Spaniards to Mexico City instead of just taking them out once they disembarked, was because he wanted the horses. They were the really absolutely superior weapon the Europeans had and the proof of it is that the Indigenous Nations that adopted the horse as military gear resisted the Empire all the way to the 19th century.
Finally: I really like the cover of the first edition of the novel in Spanish. It has an illustration expressly done for it by Manuel Marsol, an artist whose work I admire. I think that Grace Han found some inspiration in Marsol’s work, that is elegantly referenced in the cover of the book in English. And I care for those things: honoring those who have worked on something before us. Against what everyone says, a writer is never alone, our books are the product of intense cooperation—with living friends and dead heroes—so I love that there is a trace of Marsol’s cover in Grace’s one—long distance cooperation.
And translator Natasha Wimmer adds: “As I hope the cover makes clear, this is one groovy novel! The first word that popped into my mind when I saw the art was cahuayo, which gets a lot of mileage in the book. It’s the Spanish word for horse (caballo) as filtered through the brain of a Nahuatl speaker—most notably Moctezuma, who is crazy for cahuayos and tripping on mushrooms: a combination that leads to some Dayglo-spiralling-16th-century-world-shaking action. And also a lot of naps.”
Álvaro Enrigue’s You Dreamed of Empires will be published by Riverhead on January 9, 2024.