“Adriana” is one of the most famous characters of Mexican literature. She first appears in José Vasconcelos’s Ulises criollo and later in La tormenta (volumes 1 and 2 of his four-part biography). A stunning woman, intelligent and sensual, a modern compañera for Mexico’s premier revolutionary intellectual, Adriana is almost the “perfect” lover — that is, until she leaves him. Then, this “glorious Eve” is transformed into a devourer of men, the femme fatale of Mexican literature. Now, thanks to the exhaustive historical research, deft analysis, and fluid prose of Gabriela Cano, we have a biography of the real Adriana with excellent photographs. As the title establishes, her name was Elena Arizmendi, and she was a woman to be reckoned with.

Arizmendi was born in 1884 into a comfortable family, granddaughter of Liberal general Ignacio Mejía. She spent her early years at her grandfather’s...

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