The Fifth Sun Review

The Fifth Sun by Camilla Townsend offers readers a detailed look into the lives of the people we termed the “Aztecs” pre- and post-Spanish conquest. The author seemed definitely up to the task, as she made it perfectly clear upfront that the majority of her research and information gathered for this book was mostly taken from the limited supply of documents written by the Aztecs themselves during this time period. So what’s the problem? They are written in the Nahautl language. Rather than using known methods of information gathering such as relying on archeological digs and, more importantly, on Spanish texts and letters, which are undoubtedly are easier to translate and understand, we have here a more focused point of view on the Aztec peoples themselves based on source written material from the very same people of that time. The result is truly fascinating, and like many others, it has transformed my previous thinking and bias about what an “Aztec” civilization really meant.

They believed that the universe had imploded four times previously, and they were living under the fifth sun, thanks to the extraordinary courage of an ordinary man.

Like many readers, I can only assume that our understanding of this ancient civilization of people is very limited and that whatever information we do have on them is based on what was undoubtedly taught in our middle school years from normal history textbooks. Heck, I even thought the Aztecs/Nahuas and Mayans were the same group of people. We saw them mainly as a savage culture that regularly sacrificed human lives in brutal ways to honor their gods. They were violent and regularly waged war on other territories and tribes or villages to gain additional resources. While the majority of this somewhat rings true, there is much, much more to this than meets the eye. How did the Aztecs come to be? What were their early lore and tales that they retold from generation to generation? How was Tenochtitlan founded? While many have learned of Hernando Cortes and the Spanish conquest, was it really as one-sided as the textbooks have taught us in school?

“My heart is angry. We are not born twice, not engendered twice. Instead we leave this earth forever.”

Song/Poem written by the Nahuas

What I loved best was learning about the aftermath of the post-conquest era. Rather than just a few paragraphs as I have remembered them, here we get an in-depth look at how the Aztecs fared once everyone started to realize that the Spaniards weren’t leaving and that any long-term war with them would surely be the end of their civilization and race. The survival and preservation of their culture ultimately became their primary goals. This is definitely an eye-opener for me because, as mentioned earlier, I really didn’t get a full picture of the Aztecs. What was done here by the author is her best way of painting that picture for us. I highly doubt it was easy, as she has mentioned multiple times. The Fifth Sun was a pleasure to read and written in a way that made it very accessible, even to history amateurs like myself.

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