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.