Books by Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes is the author of more than a dozen novels. He lives in Mexico and London.


THE GREAT LATIN AMERICAN NOVEL by Carlos Fuentes
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Feb. 12, 2016

"A valedictory work full of erudition and heart."
The late, great Mexican novelist and critic (1928-2012) offers a personal history of the fiction he admired. Read full book review >
DESTINY AND DESIRE by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 4, 2011

"A compelling novel by one of the masters of contemporary fiction."
A novel of substance about friendship, philosophy and politics set in the "thousand-headed hydra of Mexico City" from the prolific pen of distinguished man of letters Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz, 2009, etc.). Read full book review >
HAPPY FAMILIES by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 30, 2008

"A lesser work than such fully achieved recent fictions as The Years with Laura Diaz and The Eagle's Throne, but of real interest as a Latin American little brother to John Dos Passos's U.S.A., the book that may have inspired it."
Sixteen cleverly varied short stories, separated by mostly free-verse interludes, form a broad image of modern Mexico in the latest fiction from that country's most prominent writer (The Eagle's Throne, 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
THE EAGLE’S THRONE by Carlos Fuentes
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: May 16, 2006

"A nerve-grating cautionary tale, and one of his best books. "
First published in Spanish in 2002, the veteran Mexican author's ebullient revival of the epistolary novel casts a frosty eye on future (and contemporary) geopolitics. Read full book review >
THIS I BELIEVE by Carlos Fuentes
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 8, 2005

"Either way, This I Believe is full of pleasures. Whatever their setting, the most memorable of these pieces ably show why Fuentes has been so well regarded all these years."
An autumn-of-life exercise in taking stock by the renowned Mexican novelist and essayist (Inez, 2002, etc.). Read full book review >
INEZ by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 1, 2001

"'What was there between them,' Fuentes's narrator asks, 'that thwarted the continuation of what had been and prevented the occurrence of what never was?' If that makes sense to you, you'll probably enjoy Inez."
The power of music, and the passions aroused by the artistic impulse, are given inexplicably murky expression in this very odd, somewhat disappointing latest from Fuentes (The Years with Laura Díaz, 2000, etc.). Read full book review >
THE VINTAGE BOOK OF LATIN AMERICAN STORIES by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 1, 2000

"Still, a very satisfying selection—and, at $14, a tremendous bargain."
A solid collection of 39 stories covering an approximate half-century's worth of fiction variously illustrative of the conflicting principles (cited in Fuentes's prefatory essay "The Storyteller") of "immediate effect" espoused by Argentinean Julio Cortázar and "interrelated narrative constellations" as practiced by his countryman Jorge Luis Borges. These great exemplars, Gabriel García Márquez, and João Guimarães Rosa are all represented by often-anthologized tales—but there are numerous choice surprises here (including the Dostoevskyan "Hell Most feared," by Uruguay's underrated Juan Carlos Onetti, Argentinean Nelida Pinon's hair-raising "House of Passion," and—an interesting closing story—Mexican Pablo Soler Frost's parabolic, and quite Borgesian, "Clamour"). There are relatively few overtly political stories (Colombian Policarpo Varon's "The Feast" is notable); in fact, many of the best pieces here offer imaginative treatments of familiar family conflicts (especially Brazilian Moacyr Scliar's terse, brilliant "Van Gogh's Ear" and Mexican Sergio Pitol's richly imagined "Bukhara Nocturne"). Oddly, there's nothing from such modern masters as Mario Benedetti and Augusto Monterroso—not to mention Mario Vargas llosa, and Carlos Fuentes himself. Read full book review >
THE YEARS WITH LAURA DÍAZ by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

"A replete and readable portrayal of a fascinating character, and an all-around terrific novel."
A century's worth of Mexican culture and politics is observed through the prism of the life of the eponymous protagonist of this big novel, the most lucid and satisfying fiction of Fuentes's 40-year career (The Crystal Frontier, 1997, etc.).Read full book review >
MYSELF WITH OTHERS by Carlos Fuentes
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: April 1, 1998

The scope of Fuentes' essays is attractively broad—from two elegant pieces of writerly autobiography to long discursions on Gogol, Diderot, Cervantes, and Bunuel, to an admonitory Harvard commencement address on the evils of US insensitivity to Latin America. Yet apart from the autobiographical pieces, nothing else—surprisingly, considering Fuentes' mandarin tastes and knowledges—hits home. The Cervantes essay is probably best, touching on the Erasmian revolution, the rise of the imaginary; but the other heavyweight literary pieces seem far too rhetorical, portentous: "Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the name of an American writer, a writer of the New World that stretches from pole to pole rather than from sea to sea." In various places, Fuentes establishes and re-solders a valuable point: about the essential difference, for fiction, between time and the manifestations of time—yet always in tones of basso authority and repetition ("In the landscape of the novel, Gogol draws a vast horizon perpendicular to an erect time. This horizontality has a name: Russia. This name has an object that incarnates it: the troika"). The overly rhetorical effect comes, perhaps, because few if any of Fuentes' notions could be called securely his; they're more usually suave recastings of important but increasingly disseminated theories (Bakhtin, Kundera, et al.). For all its gloss and sophisticated reach, then, a minor, disappointing book. Read full book review >
THE CRYSTAL FRONTIER by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

A sardonic tale about relations between the US and Mexico, by the latter country's acclaimed author of such cosmopolitan fictions as Terra Nostra (1976) and The Campaign (1991), among others. Each story portrays a conflict involving a family member, intimate, or business associate of "the powerful political Leonardo Barroso," a deal- and king-maker with a foot in both countries and a shadowy demeanor and personal history. For example, "A Capital Girl" traces the emotional vacillations endured by Michelina, an impressionable young woman who idolizes her godfather, Leonardo, as a result accepting marriage to his deeply unstable son Mariano. These and other characters reappear in several stories, a few of which are rather too nakedly discursive (e.g., the wheelchair-bound narrator's monologue in "The Line of Oblivion," and a predictably manic-depressive relationship between a wealthy white matron and her abused Mexican housemaid in "Girlfriends"). Indeed, most of the stories are too frequently interrupted by ironic commentaries on both American arrogance and myopia and Mexican illiteracy and inertia. However, "Spoils" presents a delicious characterization of its protagonist Dionisio, a cooking expert and gourmet explorer of several species of appetites. And in "Malintzin Las Maquilas"—a lively, sexy story whose sociopolitical content emerges naturally from its character relationships—Fuentes vividly depicts the volatile bonding among three women factory workers. The long (and uneven) climactic story, "Rio Grande, Rio Bravo," explores in too pat a fashion the human and diplomatic ramifications of "crossing the border," and brings the volume to a stagy (if perfectly logical) violent end. A vast improvement over Fuentes's recent self-indulgent metafiction Diana (1995), and a pretty creditable dramatization of the mocking rhyme with which the book leaves us: "poor Mexico,/poor United States,/so far from God,/so near to one another. Read full book review >
A NEW TIME FOR MEXICO by Carlos Fuentes
HISTORY
Released: June 1, 1996

Desultory essays, mostly uninspired, on Mexico, following closely behind the noted author's execrable roman it clef Diana (1995). Updating his Tiempo Mexicano (Mexican Time), a vigorous examination of the wrongs of Mexico's political and economic system of the 1970s, this collection offers a few highlights worthy of the Fuentes of old, He is an incisive student of the differences that divide Mexicans and Americans: Conceptions of the marketplace and of individual liberty; ideas, as the title suggests, of time itself, exemplified by the term manana, which "does not mean putting things off till the morrow. It means not letting the future intrude on the sacred completeness of today." Fuentes has much to say on the cultural complexities of Mexico, on the likelihood that the NAFTA accord will fail, on the stranglehold a corrupt central government has on a country that should by all rights be both wealthy and internationally influential, on the ever-declining "Mexican miracle" promised in the oil-rich '70s. But noteworthy passages are too few and far between. Rather than connect his themes and make a definitive statement, Fuentes is mostly content to issue vaporous pronouncements: "To see Mexico from the air is to look upon the face of creation." "Only the Revolution made present all of Mexico's pasts—that is why it deserves a capital R." "The Indians of Mexico are the only aristocrats in a country of provincial imitations, shabby colonial hidalgos, haughty republican Creoles, and corrupt, cruel, and ignorant revolutionary bourgeois." The reader will be forgiven for wondering why a Mexican Indian, the poorest of Mexico's poor, should feel aristocratic, but Fuentes should not be forgiven for this altogether silly rhetorical device. In the end, Fuentes refuses to make a clear, definitive statement on the crises facing Mexico, a sad thing in a writer who once made his country comprehensible to the world. Read full book review >
DIANA by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A roman Ö clef distinguished, so to speak, by feet of the samenot to mention other bodily parts lubriciously (if not lovingly) described. It's the first-person confession of a Mexican novelist who in all essentials resembles and is in no way distinguished from Carlos Fuentes (The Orange Tree, 1994, etc.). On New Year's Eve, 1968, then in his 40s, the novelist meets and falls helplessly in love with Diana Soren, a mercurial American film actress who began her career as an untrained ingÇnue playing Joan of Arc and followed that performance with one in a famous French New Wave melodramain other words, an unmistakable simulacrum of the late Jean Seberg. She takes Protagonist/Fuentes (hereafter, P/F) to her bed; impatiently endures his unwillingness to remain constantly at her beck and call (P/F is a dedicated novelist, after all); answers his guilt about not acting as the literary voice of his country with her own reservations about having portrayed a saint; and abandons him for higher causes and other lovers, including, most notably, the unnamed "leader of the Black Panthers." Other less fortunate notables, who are evoked or appear either as themselves or in thinly fictionalized disguise, include Seberg's husband, French novelist Romain Gary (here named Ivan Gravet); actors Lee J. Cobb and Clint Eastwood; filmmaker Luis Bunuel; novelists James Baldwin and William Styron; and even Tina Turner. Dead or alive, all should sue. The novel is a maudlin, exploitative exercise in self- absorption, redeemed only by a few edgy pages in which P/F frets more or less candidly about "the separation between the vital content of things and their literary expression in my work." Even so, P/F underestimates. Nowhere in Fuentes's otherwise respectable oeuvre is there evidence of such slackness, shapelessness, andlet's face itshamelessness. A peculiarly ungallant and unnecessary book. And unless it's simply a makeweight being used to fulfill a contractual obligation, it's hard to understand why Fuentes allowed it to be published. Read full book review >
THE ORANGE TREE by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 1994

Fuentes continues to interpret the clash between the Old and New Worlds with dazzling imaginative insight in five novellas that span a spectrum of eras and individuals. Each story features an orange tree, the symbolic presence of Spain, brought by the Moors to Spain and then later carried by the Conquistadors to Mexico. "Could any image verify a Spaniard's identity better than the sight of a man eating an orange?" asks the dead narrator of the first novella, The Two Shores, which is as much an investigation of the power of language as an interpretation of the Spanish conquest. In it the dead man recalls how, after being shipwrecked, he had lived among the natives, learned their language, and planted an orange tree. He is found by Cortes, who employs him as a translator until he is supplanted by Cortes' mistress, a Mayan. In The Sons of the Conquistadors, two heirs of Cortes dispute the interpretation of their father's will, which they regard as promising redress to the Mayans. "I'm sick of the spectacle of death...I don't understand how a nation is born," observes the one exiled to Spain. The Two Numantias is on one level a history of the Roman conquest of Spain, on another a meditation on the power of language, which "constructs the work of art." In Apollo and the Whores, an aging Hollywood actor, the only American to win an Oscar for a role in a foreign film, comes to Acapulco, and on a macabre ship of whores, finds in death his greatest role. The fifth novella, The Two Americas, is a satirical reworking of Columbus' search for the Indies, but here he finds paradise and never leaves until forced out by entrepreneurs of the future seeking a pristine spot in a polluted world. Exuberantly imaginative and unabashedly sensual, Fuentes, even when the conceits seem strained, never fails to entertain, instruct — and, yes, provoke. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: April 14, 1992

A companion volume to an upcoming Discovery/BBC TV series, this passionate meditation on Hispanic cultural identity from Fuentes (Constancia, 1990, etc.) unfolds with all the color, urgency, and perhaps inevitable superficiality of a popular documentary. Taking as his canvas no less than the entirety of Spanish and Spanish-American history, from the cave drawings at Altamira to the tortured political landscape of present-day Latin America, Fuentes builds his plea for Hispanic cultural continuity around a cluster of vigorously poetic images, largely concerned with the matter of "inclusion." In the pre-Columbian age, for instance, Spain, Fuentes says, then quite literally "the End of the World" and marked by the successive influences of Iberian, Celtic, Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish traditions, found its unique identity through an often reluctant embrace of "the Other." Transplanted to America, this rich blend expanded to encompass varied African and indigenous Indian accents. And yet today, fragmented and unstable, Latin America still lacks a "necessary vision of cultural, economic, and political convergences." Although deeply personal and frequently stirring as polemic, the book offers no more than an outline as history, punctuated by proud intellectual trivia (Spain established Europe's earliest parliaments; Santo Domingo was home to the first university in the New World) and nicely formed, highly subjective musings on art and literature. More troubling is Fuentes's continual reliance on glib generalization and stereotype (e.g., that Mexican revolutionary leader Benito Juarez "was the very embodiment of Indian fatality, Roman legality, and Spanish stoicism"). Odd, too, is the simultaneously forward-looking and conservative exhortation—that Latin Americans must "create [their] own models," yet that they must search for these within an "authentically Iberian" tradition—which seems as much a reflection of the central dilemma as a solution. Strictly an introduction to a complex subject, but, in its yearning and contradictions, an unusually revealing one. Read full book review >
THE CAMPAIGN by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

With this first volume of a projected trilogy about 19th-century revolutionary Spanish America, the prolific Fuentes (Constancia, 1990; Christopher Unborn, 1989; etc.) offers a baggy, robust tale about a political kidnapping and its human consequences. Baltasar Bustos, the son of a wealthy Argentine ranch owner, is influenced by Rousseau and the political anti-Royalist climate in 1810 to "turn books into action." He kidnaps the newborn child of a presiding judge of the Supreme Court, the Marquis of Cabra, but in so doing glimpses the Marquise, Ofelia Salamanca, and falls in love with her. Bustos then spends the rest of the story trying to redeem himself by searching first for the kidnapped child, sent away to live the life of a prostitute's child, and then searching for the Marquise when she too disappears. Against this backdrop, Fuentes offers a gallery of straw dogs and mouthpieces who speak for one side or the other as the absolutist Catholic empire of Spain struggles against both principled revolutionaries, who want to create "a rationalist, liberal, and perhaps Protestant freedom," and against various other factions—mestizos and various cutthroats. Meanwhile, Bustos, immersed in a "political and moral anguish" beyond "the immediate division between mine and yours," changes stripes frequently, either to survive or to disguise his true purpose—finding the Marquise—until his search becomes "celebrated" and an aura of myth accumulates around him and the Marquise, who, he eventually learns, is herself a revolutionary double-agent. Exasperatingly expository and episodic—but, still, Fuentes manages to persuade us of the Spanish-American rationale for a continuing revolution and to explore (very unsystematically) the "possibility of establishing a relationship with God through language. Read full book review >
CONSTANCIA AND OTHER STORIES FOR VIRGINS by Carlos Fuentes
NONFICTION
Released: April 1, 1990

This second collection (Burnt Water, 1980) of five long stories from Fuentes (Christopher Unborn, The Old Gringo, etc.) is full of sound, fury, and various linguistic innovations, as well as a sustained meditation on the relationship between art and life. Although Fuentes is best in his novels, where he has a broader canvas, there is much spirited satire here, along with some tedium. The best is "Reasonable People": a group of students meets every month for lunch, often with their mentor, an architect with aeautiful daughter. They all love the daughter, who plans to marry a politician, and are much taken with the architect's interest in "a sacred center, a point of orientation." In Mexico, "the problem is whether or not to believe in the sacred." Many words are spilt on these matters, and part two, the payoff, is a compelling fable on the nature of miracles and faith. "Constancia," a meditation on exile, is about a doctor who lives in Savannah with Constancia, near a Russian actor who is close to death: thinking about "old age as a series of renunciations of what we loved when we were young," the narrator investigates his wife's history after she recovers from an illness and discovers that, in fact, she is not the exile he has imagined, but a woman from whose real life he has been mostly excluded. "The Prisoner of Las Lomas" is a long, busy tale, a postmodern O. Henry story; "Viva Mi Fama" begins with a man leaving his wife in Madrid and quickly becomes phantasmagoric, ending with an apocalyptic finish that includes Goya; and "La Desdichada" is a spirited satire about two students who bring home a mannequin and fall in love with it. Fuentes' fans may appreciate his wire-walking here, while others will be reminded of better things he's done. Read full book review >
CHRISTOPHER UNBORN by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1989

A postmodern extravaganza narrated by a fetus: his conception on Twelfth Night begins the book and his birth on Columbus Day ends it, and in between those two events is a feast of language concerning a despoiled Mexico. In 1922, Mexico is sinking fast, and to bolster- the populace the government relies upon symbols, including a contest: the first boy born on the 12th of October, 1992 (the 500th anniversary of Columbus), will become Regent of the Nation. Angel and Angeles conceive El Nino: "I am the only one who made it to Treasure Island" (fertilization) for eventual birth into "the newly mutilated Sweet Fatherland." Thus commences a magically realistic Bildungsroman and a mythopoetic look at Mexican "lottery life," structured loosely as answers to a series of questions offered by both parents and the fetus. "This is the novel," the fetus says, "I am imagining inside my mother's egg." Long biographies of Angel (whose life is a compendium of "family witchcraft" as he "searched for a nation built to last") and of Angeles (a Platonist with a "multitrack mind") are juxtaposed to (and eventually dovetailed with) a national political plot involving, among others, the Ayatollah Matamoros and his mistress, The Last Playboy Centerfold. It's quite a balancing act, consisting of pranks, slapstick, eloquent set pieces, social satire, and Borgean games (". . .language gestates and grows with me, not one minute, not one centimeter before or after or less or more than I myself"). This "web of complications" comes to an end only with the final journey down the birth canal, when the narrator forgets everything. Fuentes, sometimes too erudite for his own good, gets it together here—developing an inventive literary conceit into a multilayered meditation on the plight of contemporary Mexico. Read full book review >
THE OLD GRINGO by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1985

Set during the era of the Villa uprising in Mexico, 1916, Fuentes' book tracks the mysterious passage made by cynic/satirist Ambrose Bierce, at age 71, into then very dangerous Mexico, the place where he wished to end his life: "But maybe he was carrying a different fear, one he voiced as he crossed the frontier: 'I'm afraid that each of us carries the real frontier inside.'" Bierce is a mass of regrets—mostly because the cavalier manner of his literary persona undermined his capacity for family love—and in Mexico he seeks a stark finale for his life, an expiation. He immediately meets up with a detachment of Pancho Villa's troops, led by General Tomas Arroyo—a son of servants now vengefully pillaging the same kind of hacienda that in shame he grew up within. It's at one of these estates that Arroyo discovers an American schoolmistress, Harriet Winslow, abandoned to fate when the masters of the hacienda flee. Arroyo immediately takes her for his sexual prisoner—yet she also comes to serve as a focus for an elaborate catharsis involving Bierce and different layers of old sexual/political guilt. Fuentes, unfortunately for the reader, arranges the trio—the old writer/the woman/the ex-slave general—claustrophobically and rigidly: the woman uses Bierce as an embodiment of her father (who abandoned her and her mother after the Spanish-American War); Bierce uses the general as the handiest angel of death, etc. And the three of them are always doing a portentous dance on the ground of Mexico itself: ". . .the fatally stubborn land whose only reality was the stubborn determination never to be anything but its eternal miserable, chaotic self. . ." Excessively hectoring and deterministic, a book that's unusually soapy and obvious from a writer as often adroit as Fuentes. Read full book review >
DISTANT RELATIONS by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 8, 1982

Fuentes rarely sets an easy task for himself in his novels; usually, in fact, he takes on some sociological, political, or philosophical enormity. And this time the challenge is especially daunting, with disquisitions on a broad range of ideas: the Old World held hostage by the New; French garden architecture; sensuality; the fascination of Latin American intellectuals with all things French; the power of ancient pre-Columbian objects; the art of narration ("a desperate attempt to reestablish analogy without sacrificing differentiation"); and memory's interaction with the past ("We imagine that the instant belongs to us. The past forces us to understand that there is no true time unless it is shared"). Oddly, however, when Fuentes packs all this imposing intellectual material into a narrative bag here, the bag seems not overstuffed (as you would expect) but softly collapsed over empty space. The framework: Fuentes as narrator is having lunch with Branly, an 83-year-old Parisian count. And Branly tells a book-length story about: his acquaintance with Heredia, a Mexican anthropologist; his invitation to Heredia and young son Victor to stay with him a while in Paris (Heredia's wife and other son were killed in a plane crash); his participation in a game of Victor's—which involves phoning any other Victor Heredia listed in the phone book; and the nightmarish sequence of events that goes on in the home of this other Victor Heredia (duplication, ghosts, homosexual reunion, cruelty, history-through-humiliation). As you may have already sensed, this plot is terribly hard to follow—especially since Fuentes combines a slow-moving Jamesian style with the elegant surrealism of late Bunuel. And there's a distracting self-consciousness throughout. So—though patient readers may find themselves gradually appreciating the meditative yet tough-minded approach here, the mode of ruminant distillation—this novel is one of Fuentes' less successful experiments: anemic when it attempts to be limpid and (even more so than usual with Fuentes) without the controlled craft to match its ambition. Read full book review >
BURNT WATER by Carlos Fuentes
Released: Oct. 1, 1980

Urbane stories—almost all set in Mexico City. The weakest tales here simply exploit a single metaphor: in "Chac-Mool," a collector buys a pre-Columbian statue of a god, and the god turns into flesh; in "In a Flemish Garden," a Europeanized house is haunted by the Empress Carlotta. But the strongest of them take on Mexico City's schizoid energy in total. An old bachelor, mother-stifled, lives alone in a crumbling house and keeps to the genteel practices of 30 years before (wakes late, eats in one restaurant, wears spats and a bowler): he's eventually murdered by the street hustlers who are his cultural opposites. "The Two Elenas" portrays a young woman so desperate to be hip and "with-it," decultured, that she becomes a mirror image of herself, her own bouncing infinity. And the final story, "The Son of Andres Aparacio," is perhaps the best: a rolling, careening, ashy tale of a young man without prospect who becomes involved with a neo-Fascist brigade of terrorists: here Fuentes is able to run without a leash what he knows best—disappointment. In general, however, stories are a less hospitable form for this writer than are novels, and the single ideas here mostly seem merely tantalizing, not a full measure. Read full book review >
THE HYDRA HEAD by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 5, 1978

In marked contrast to Fuentes' last novel, the broad-keeled and mythic Terra Nostra, this is a spy mystery, a sort of object fable linking the subterranean and inherently puzzling Mexican character to shady, cloak-and-dagger goings-on. Felix Maldonado, a Mexican bureaucrat specializing in the nationalized oil industry, finds one day that no one he works with seems to recognize him. At a reception for the Presidente he faints, later waking up swaddled in bandages and the victim of unasked-for plastic surgery. His identity, it seems, has been permanently borrowed: the old "Felix Maldonado" has been put to use as a sacrifice by a cell of Mexican Intelligence that's attempting to fend off attempts by both the Arabs and Israelis to neutralize a recent Mexican oil find. Triple agents, a clear-stoned ring that contains laser holographs, old flames of Felix's, various murders—and meanwhile Felix doesn't really know what the devil is going on. Fuentes, not completely comfortable with the form, provides another narrator three-quarters of the way through to make the action intelligible (as well as to add a long discourse upon the Arab-Israeli problem, the idea of terror in modern society, the suitability or unsuitability of the Mexican temperament to such high-stakes power). Either the clarification ought to have come earlier or been left out completely; as it stands, the book's gears—spy-story vs. think-book—don't mesh: it zooms, stalls, smokes, chugs. A bumpy ride, then, serious but unsure of itself, neither smoothly entertaining nor genuinely provocative. Read full book review >
TERRA NOSTRA by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

History and the dream interpenetrate in this outsized novel which summons into fevered, hallucinatory existence the Spain that conquered the author's native Mexico. It is like a movie by Bunuel unreeling marvels, cruelties, compulsions—a Buneul, who had been given unlimited funds by some mad mogul. Fuentes' labyrinth starts in Paris in 1999, when the Seine is boiling, the Louvre has turned to crystal and the Eiffel Tower to sand. Flagellants parade the streets. On a bridge a man meets a woman with tattooed lips; he falls into the river; the story shifts back to Spain on the eve of the New World's discovery, it is a Spain of blood, torture, religious and sexual obsessions, ruled by El Senor, who hates life (God's greatest sin was the creation of man) and has immured himself in a necropolis. His mother consorts with the cadaver of her husband. Three bastard sons of El Senor's father by different mothers appear and reappear: they are identical, down to their six-toed feet and the red crosses that stain their backs. One is a pilgrim who ventures to the Mexico of human sacrifice, as cruel as Mother Spain. The second is Don Juan, mistaken by nuns for their husband, Christ. The third is an idiot wedded to a flatulent dwarf. A peasant girl, Celestina, reappears as a witch and then as a procuress. Suddenly the scene shifts to the future: Mexico under bombardment by North American Phantoms; then full circle back to a dying Paris. At the end the narrator has an interesting form of sexual intercourse with himself, spawning future generations. History is circular and the past, present and future happen simultaneously. The fusion of myth and reality that occupied Fuentes in A Change of Skin (1967) is carried to obsessive length. Brilliant passages and exciting adventures occur among arid wastes of metaphysical speculation. The prose is incantatory but ultimately exhausting. Read full book review >
TRIPLE CROSS by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 29, 1972

Collected here in one volume, short novels by three of Latin America's most conspicuously, perhaps obtrusively, sophisticated writers. Carlos Fuentes' Holy Place invokes the tentacled chic of art nouveau, Antonioni's expensive anomie, Gucci labels, Scott Fitzgerald — all the current emblems of wealth and wan desire — to characterize an enervated young man's relationship to his movie star mother. The intention is not always possible to gauge since the story veers from parody to pathos and menace. Jose Donoso's Hell Has No Limits is a mellower and more strictly indigenous work in spite of the title, about an aging transvestite and his homely daughter, and the romantic outcast who excites both their hopes. And Severo Sarduy, the most flamboyant experimenter, has launched something like a hallucinated moral allegory or an airborne Cinecitta soundstage with the idea of Help and Mercy, two of the Fates, bungling alone through the world in dynel wigs. There is a conspicuous reference to the international avant-garde in the extreme conceptions and in the priority given to style and artifice, and at times the European model will seem misapplied. But it is better to suspend such judgments and accept these as exquisitely gaudy, unique cultural hybrids. Read full book review >
CHANGE OF SKIN by Carlos Fuentes
NONFICTION
Released: Jan. 22, 1967

Carlos Fuentes is Mexico's leading contemporary writer and this while probably his most ambitious novel, is also his most amorphous—lacking any narrative action to give definition to the inchoate flux of ideas, images, and endless memories of a past which is at time collective, at times personal. The scene is Cholula, where Cortez once committed his battue of the Indians, now a "living death." But then all of this is death-directed ("To be dead waiting for eternity to put in its appearance, which it refuses to do, to go on, dead, waiting.") and the four characters assembled—over whom the "narrator,"—a sort of anarchic hipster presides—are all landlocked: Javier, who had written one little Foundation winning book; Elizabeth his wife who has been destroying him for years by demanding too much; Franz, a Nazi, with the survival guilt of the crematoria; and Isabel, a kicky chick ("All I'm looking for is orgasms."). The novel has a certain degenerative energy, but more often than not its fragmentation is close to anarchy which makes it a quite often penitential reading experience. Assured critical attention. Read full book review >
AURA by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1965

A novella by the author of Where the Air is Clear, The Good Conscience, and' The Death of Artemio Cruz finds him at brilliant dark play as he swiftly carries the horror to its proof and inevitable fulfillment. There is a fated air to the advertisement ("Wanted, young historian, conscientious, neat. Perfect knowledge colloquial French") that draws Felipe Montero to the lair of Senora Llorente. She asks him to edit the papers of her husband, sixty years dead. He accepts the engagement after gazing into the green eyes of her niece Aura and seeing the surge of the sea in them. His affair with her soon takes a sinister turn, but the net of sorcery ensnares him. He is captured and absorbed until he knows the truth of his lover's and his own identity. Black on black, with all the accoutrements of the classic horror tale, this attains a fatalism that is the fullest realization of fantasy. Read full book review >
THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 15, 1964

Seventy-one years old, wasted and sick with a degrading intestinal affliction, Artemio Cruz lies in bed and remembers — remembers and lives while the priest administers extreme Unction. A financial success, risen with ruthless ambition from the ashes of the Mexican Revolution, Cruz relives what he did and did not manage to salvage from his life. His days as a Revolutionary soldier, his lost love Regina, his unwilling wife sought through her brother's death and father's weakness, his prime, his fall and his childhood — in a complicated series of mental flashbacks the old man struggles with memory so that he can continue to live. Waiting like carrion vultures for his testament, his loveless family watches as the priest chants, "ego te absolve" — for seventy-one years without awareness. Through these last leaps of memory, Cruz becomes aware and dies just after he has remembered the farthest leap of all — birth. Whether or not his is a recognition of futility, this intricately constructed collage of a dying mind stubbornly living its past and desperately hoping for a future manages to rise above artifice to power and to affirmation. With virile, honest writing in a stream of ebbing consciousness, the author of Where the Air is Clear has mastered an old theme and created a strong novel. The publishers will support it accordingly. Read full book review >
WHERE THE AIR IS CLEAR by Carlos Fuentes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 7, 1960

"In Mexico City there is never tragedy but only outrage", says the poetic and tormented voice of this tumultuous philosophical and political novel. Through a multitude of characters — the decadent new international set whose lives are a frenzied orgiastic whirl; the artists and intellectuals who feel bound to and at the same time cut off from Europe; the denizens of the twilight world of the bordello fumbling through a haze of intoxication; the workers, oppressed, and desperately clinging to the promise of a lottery ticket; the displaced aristocrats who have reluctantly made their truce with the middle class — Fuentes creates a Mexico torn by its allegiance to the Revolution, racked by the guilt-laden legacy of Morelos and Zapata and yet committed to the promises of a new liberalism. He traces the complicated sources of the uprising, shifting in time from the implicit beginning of Revolution to the recent past in which the heirs of rebellion either compromise or go under — but with a sun-drenched extravagance of emotion — "if Mexicans do not save themselves, not a single man in all creation will save himself". Written with a fervor that is both fierce and compassionate this is a complex, powerful novel of huge scope. Read full book review >