Conquistadors' women pardoned in paperback

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For centuries both women have been reviled as collaborators in Spanish conquests of the new world that verged on genocide. La Malinche was an Aztec turncoat who helped Hernán Cortés conquer Mexico; Inés Suárez was a Spanish seamstress who joined another conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, in slaughtering the inhabitants of Chile.

Now two of Latin America's female literary giants, Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende, have come to the rescue by writing novels casting them as misunderstood heroines who could be role models for today's women.

Some critics have balked at the revisionism, saying the novels gloss over the rape and savage subjugation that accompanied the 16th century colonial invasions of central and south America.

Allende, 64, whose Inés of My Soul is published this week by HarperCollins, depicts the seamstress as a warrior, adventurer and founding mother of Santiago who built hospitals, dug wells and fed the poor - in addition to beheading enemies.

The author of The House of the Spirits said male perspectives had dominated the history of the conquests and that in four years of research she had learned to appreciate Suárez and her rise from a humble birth in 1507.

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