For me, Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) remains one of the great writers of the Latin American Boom. He combined his talents as an imaginative novelist and short story writer with an unwavering dedication to participation in the major political and social debates of his time. He operated as a leading public intellectual and cultural ambassador for Mexico, while spending considerable time teaching in the U.S.A. He was perfectly bilingual and indeed bicultural in his vast knowledge of literature, history and film. Fuentes attended the School of Philosophy and Letters and the Law School in Mexico City. He was greatly influenced by his professors and their idealistic sense of the possibility of using international law and human rights norms to advance a progressive form of politics.
I have long been fascinated by Mexico and its often violent but also hopeful history, particularly its revolutionary heritage. I first travelled there in the early 1980s and was overwhelmed by the strange, vibrant and dynamic country I travelled through by bus (often putting the hammock I acquired in Merida to good use). On those long bus journeys, I was quick to pull out the novels of Fuentes as my foremost guide to the history of the ancient land which had so remarkably maintained its traditions in the challenging transition to modernity and 20th century economic development.
The Death of Artemio Cruz
This novel remains for me the most insightful account of the cultural meaning of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 and unfolded over two chaotic decades. Fuentes uses the stories of a revolutionary fighter, Cruz, to trace the development of the country and the decay of the ideals for which volunteers like Cruz, and the companions who fought alongside him, risked their lives. At the very end of his life, Cruz is haunted by the memory of having escaped a prison sentence and death while a young lawyer (who shared his cell) and a courageous indigenous guide (Tobias, "the Yaqui") met their untimely deaths. In this novel, as in other works, Fuentes affirms the valiant efforts of indigenous peoples to ensure the success of the Revolution and its commitment to greater equality.
Written in 1962, this exceptional modernist novel employs a sophisticated 12-part structure. Cruz narrates events in his life in a fractured recounting of significant turning points. These events parallel historical developments, many of which unravel the noble ideals for which Cruz supposedly...