An autumn-of-life exercise in taking stock by the renowned Mexican novelist and essayist (Inez, 2002, etc.).
“I believe in Balzac,” writes Fuentes. “Next to Cervantes and Faulkner, he is the novelist who has influenced me the most.” Fuentes avows belief in many other things, too: in at least a modicum of essential goodness in Homo sapiens; in Shakespeare and Faulkner; in love that, because mature and real and all-embracing, also contains some element of evil; in the “warm breasts of the girls in Boulder, Colorado”; in the possibility of his fellow Mexicans one day casting aside the “legend of the defeated” and taking their rightful place in the world (after all, Mexico is five times the size of France); in friendship, although all friendships are doomed to end one day; and in sundry odd other matters. Anyone who has kept up with Fuentes’s work over the last five decades will find some expected notes: a love verging on worship of other writers, most memorably expressed in passages on encountering Thomas Mann in Zurich; a conviction that reason will one day point the way toward our getting out of the various messes that we get ourselves into. But there are surprises here, too, and even a few puzzles: a head-scratching moment when Fuentes recalls holding an infant daughter, another where he propagates a novel view of one particularly well-known figure in history (“Jesus does not resurrect the dead. He revives the living. Jesus is the copy editor of human life”). All these opinions, centripetal and centrifugal, are developed to greater or lesser degrees: sometimes Fuentes turns in whole essays, crisply written and self-contained, in defense of one thesis or another; at other times he offers up crystalline apothegms surrounded by not much of anything in particular.
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.