I bought Hunger's Brides by Paul Anderson a few years ago after reading an excellent review of it somewhere. I started it last November and am still reading it - in between time I've finished off The Loop, The Rose and The Beast, Zanzibar and a few other books. Hunger's Brides is demanding - I hope to finish it this month but it may take me a bit longer.
Hunger's Brides is based on the real-life story of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a child prodigy born in Mexico of the 1600s who could read by the age of 3 and had mastered Latin by the time she was a teenager. In Anderson's telling, she grows up with a native Indian child as her best friend and learns much of the secret knowledge of the Aztecs - their legends, culture, religion, etc. When her grandfather dies she is sent to Mexico City where her learning causes a sensation. She is the favorite of the Vicereine but, the Inquisition is raging in Spain, and, eventually, she is censored for her outspokenness. She retreats into convent life while religious and political discord rages among Church officials, colonial representatives and Sor Juana's supporters.
Hundreds of years later, a brilliant grad student, Beulah Limosneros, becomes obsessed by Sor Juana's life and disappears into Mexico, searching for clues to the nun's life. Later, Beulah is found, half-dead, the victim of a violent attack and her professor, Donald Gregory, the man with whom she'd had an illicit affair is implicated.
Hunger's Brides interweaves all these absorbing narratives together and is a masterpiece of vivid historical imagining. It is also very long...