The Madness of Mama Carlota

(1 customer review)


Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1558857427
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1558857421
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 10.6 ounces
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches


It’s 1852 in Cholula, Mexico, and three sisters, indigenous girls of the Chontal people, seek work at the Hacienda La Perla. They rapidly make their way from dish washers to the cook’s assistants before entering the house as servants to the wealthy Acuna family. But when the youngest sister is viciously raped by a family member, they flee the estate–after taking their revenge–only to be caught up in the historic Battle of Puebla, where native Mexicans defeat invading French troops.

Fearful that the Acuna family will not rest until the sisters are found and punished, they keep moving, ultimately finding work as servants at the National Palace in Mexico City, where the French have recently taken control. There, the sisters’ fortunes become intertwined with that of the Empress Carlota. Both beautiful and extremely intelligent, she dedicates herself to the empire, chastising Napoleon when he reneges on his promise to send troops and antagonizing the Church by proposing that the empire secularize at least part of its holdings. But her love for Mexico’s people is not reciprocated, and soon the sisters have to decide whether to stay behind without the empress’ protection or to accompany her to Europe.

Weaving the story of Mexico’s indigenous peoples with that of the tragic Belgian princess who became the wife of the Austrian Archduke Maximillian von Hapsburg, acclaimed author Graciela Limon once again explores issues of race, class and women’s rights. She skillfully crafts a gripping novel about a smart, wealthy woman who is not afraid to challenge powerful men, and re-imagines the story behind Empress Carlota’s descent into madness and eventual imprisonment in a remote European castle.

1 review for The Madness of Mama Carlota

  1. Kristine Brancolini

    Historical fiction at its best

    It seems impossible to believe, but during the nineteenth century, Mexico had a Belgian emperor and empress for three years, from 1864-1867. Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota (Charlotte) were installed as rulers of the Second Mexican Empire by conservative Mexicans and Napoleon III. “The Madness of Mama Carlota” entwines the story of the factual Empress Carlota with three fictional sisters, Indians of the Chontal tribe, Tila, Chelo, and Lula. These three sisters have no recollection of their parents or their origins. As children they wander onto Hacienda La Perla in Cholula, Mexico. They become cooks and servants in the household. Ten years later, when they are in their early twenties, Lula is raped by the youngest brother of the patron. After the women take their revenge, they must flee. They end up in Mexico City just as the emperor and empress arrive and they become servants in the National Palace. They eventually become Carlota’s personal maids and her most trusted companions.

    Author Graciela Limon skillfully weaves the story of the young Chontal sisters with that of Empress Carlota. Limon conveys the exotic beauty of Mexico, including the beauty and strength of the Chontal sisters. Carlota loves Mexico from the first moment. Some of the most evocative passages in the book describe the sights and sounds of both Mexico City and rural Cuernavaca, where the emperor and empress have a house. However, the Mexicans resent the Belgian rulers and Benito Juarez is determined to drive them out. Soon after they arrive, those who installed Maximilian begin to lose interest and withdraw their support. Limon portrays Carlota’s frustration with her marriage and her inability to fulfill her ambitions as a ruler. She runs afoul of the Catholic Church, for example, when she suggest that they share their wealth with the Mexican people. History tells us that Carlota went mad in Mexico and never regained her sanity. She was confined to Castle Bouchout for the last 60 years of her life. But Limon builds a plausible argument that Carlota was not mad at all: “She was too strong, too influential and too outspoken. She would not keep silent about who had brought the Mexican Empire to its knees. She was, they all agreed, someone who had forgotten her place as a woman, and they did nothing to disarm the indidious gossip tht she had gone mad, because it fit into their agenda to silence her” (p. 158).

    I read this book in one day because I could not put it down. Limon’s knowledge of the indigenous people of Mexico strenghtens the novel, bringing in a multitude of cultural details that lend authenticity to the narrative. But it is the characters that stand out, including Mexico itself. Although Tila, Chelo, and Lula are fictional, it seems entirely reasonable that women such as these might have formed a life-long bond with the tragic empress who fell in love with Mexico.

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