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|Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012 )|
Mexican novelist, journalist, playwright, and essayist, who made his international breakthrough with The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962). Major themes in Fuentes's work are the limitless power of fantasy, the dilemma of national identity, and the promise and failure of the Mexican revolution. Fuentes was frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature
"I tighten my face muscles, I open my right eye, and I see it reflected in the squares of glass sewn onto a woman's handbag. That's what I am. That's what I am. That old man whose features are fragmented by the uneven squares of glass. I am that eye. I am that eye. I am that eye furrowed by accumulated rage, and old, forgotten, but always renewed rage." (from The Death of Artemio Cruz)
Carlos Fuentes was born in Panama City, but his parents were Mexican, and he later became a Mexican citizen. Fuentes's father, Rafael Fuentes Boettiger, loved books and movies. He was a career diplomat and travelled all over the world. At the age of twenty-five, he married the eighteen-year-old Berta Macías Rivas, Fuentes's mother, who was not so liberal-minded as his father.
As a child Fuentes lived with his family in the United States, Chile, and Argentina. Berta insisted that the family spoke only Spanish at home, but after education in Washington, Fuentes became bilingual from an early age. At home his father made him read Mexican history, which Fuestes saw as a history of crushing defeats compared with the United States. "I learned to imagine Mexico before I ever knew Mexico," Fuentes once said.
Fuentes's upbringing was privileged. He received a cosmopolitan education in private schools. When Fuentes was sixteen he returned to Mexico, where he attended the prestigious Colegio de México. As a posture of rebellion, Fuentes decided to be a writer, but eventually followed the advice of Alfonso Reyes: "You must become a licenciado, a lawyer; then you can do whatever you please, as I did." Fuentes entered the School of Law at the National University of Mexico, receiving his LL.B. in 1948. He also studied economics at Institut des Hautes Études Internationales in Geneva.
During his university years Fuentes adopted Marxist ideals and joined the Communist Party. In 1959 Fuentes married the famous Mexican actress Rita Macedo; they had a daughter. Macedo, "dark-skinned, with large, almond-shaped eyes and prominent cheekbones," as Fuentes described her, appeared in the last scene of Luis Buñuel's film Exterminating Angel. The marriage ended in divorce in 1966. In 1973 Fuentes married Sylvia Lemus, a journalist; they had two children.
From 1950 to 1952 Fuentes was a member a of the Mexican delegation to the International Labor Organization. Returning to Mexico in 1954 he was appointed assistant head of the press section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 1957 to 1959 he was head of Department of Cultural Relations. Fuentes also worked as secretary, then assistant director of the Cultural Department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. From 1959 Fuentes devoted himself to writing.
During the 1960s Fuentes lived mostly in Europe. He had an affair with the actress Jean Seberg, who later inspired his novel Diana o la Cazadora Solitaria (1996). Seberg left no account of her acquaintance with the Mexican writer. Fuentes was also romantically linked to the film star Jeanne Moreau. His third major novel, Cambio de piel (1967, A Change of Skin), which depicted a group of people on a journey from Mexico City to Vera Cruz, won a prestigious prize in Barcelona, Spain. However, the book was criticized as "pornographic, communistic, anti-Christian, anti-German and pro-Jewish," Censors did not allow its publication in the country. Due to his political views Fuentes was persona non grata in the United States and was forbidden to enter Puerto Rico.
Before the Olympic Games in 1968 Fuentes protested the Mexican government's brutal repression of student revolution in Tlatelolco Square and was exiled in Paris. With other leftist intellectuals and labor leaders he attacked in 1971 the dominant Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI. In A New Time For Mexico (1994) he described President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's economic policies as "archaic, savage capitalism, concentrating wealth in a minority and waiting for the impossible miracle of trickle-down." Through the deecades, his stand never softened. A very dark vision of today's world was presented in La voluntad y la fortuna (2008, Destiny and Desire), in which the moral voice of the story claims, that the "great drama of Mexico is that crime has replaced the state."
From 1974 to 1977 Fuentes served as the Mexican ambassador to France. In addition to his career as a writer, he worked a teacher and fellow at various universities, including Columbia University, New York, the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Princeton University, New Jersey, and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. "I believe in the concept of the university," he wrote in This I Believe: An A to Z of a Life (2002). "The university does not divide, it unites. It acknowledges and recognizes, it neither overlooks nor forgets. Universities are a meeting place for things that have survived, things that are present, and things that are yet to come in terms of culture."
Fuentes' several awards include Villaurrutia Prize (1975), Gallegos Prize (1977), Reyes Prize (1979), Mexican National Award for Literature (1984), Cervantes Prize (1987), Darío Prize (1988), New Order of Cultural Independence (1988), Prince of Asturias Prize (1994), Grinzane Cavouch International Prize (1994), National Order of Merit (1997). In 1972 Fuentes was elected to the Colegio Nacional. His welcoming address was delivered by Octavio Paz. Fuentes died on May 15, 2012, in Mexico City.
Fuentes started his writing career in the late 1940s. Along with Emmanuel Carballo and Octavio Paz he founded the review Revista Mexicana de Literatura in 1954. He edited El Espectador (1959-61), Siempre from 1960, and Política from 1960. Fuentes's first collection of short stories, Los días emmascarados, came out in 1954. La región más transparente (1958, Where the Air Is Clear) was Fuentes's first novel. It gave a panoramic picture of Mexico City and has been compared to John Dos Passos's novel Manhattan Transfer (1925), set in New York City. The narrator is an Indian, who has a double personality as an avatar of the Aztec God of war and a trickster.
Fuentes was often paired with the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, the original master of magic realism, of whom he has also written. "... he seemed to be literally looking inside himself, as if this were the only thing that counted in matters of sight," Fuentes said in 'Borges in Action,' "seeing outside being a totally frivolous affair." When Borges uses history as a basis for pure fantasy, Fuentes maintained a realistic stance of power and politics in Latin America – magical elements, myths of the past and wide range of cultural references are combined with social critique. Fuentes also adopted experimental techniques familiar from the nouveau roman and postmodern fiction. In later novels Fuentes dealt with the question of Mexican identity and its relationship to other cultures.
The Death of Artemio Cruz is told in the first, second, and third person. Artemio Cruz is a poor peon and supporter of revolutionary ideals. He gains wealth and becomes a corrupt, ruthlessness business magnate, a symbol of international capitalist greed. As he lies on his deathbed, Fuentes follows his fragmented thoughts and images wavering between past and present. The haunting novella Aura (1962) is told in the second person narrative. Thus the reader and the fictional protagonist are united in a story which deterministically leads to change of identities. A young historian, Felipe Motero, starts to complete the memoirs of General Llorente in a strange, old house. He fells in love with the beautiful young Aura. She is the niece of his employer, Señora Consuelo, the widow of the general. Eventually Felipe finds his reincarnated identity and Consuelo tells him that Aura is the projection of her younger self. Fuentes began to write the novel in Paris, which he has called a double city. In the story Fuentes recreated a girl he had met as a child in Mexico and years later again in Paris: "She was another, she had been another, not she who was going to be but she who, always, was being."
Terra Nostra (1975) was Fuentes's major novel on Spanish and Latin American history. It moves freely in time from ancient Rome to the apocalyptic end of the 20th century. "Time is the subject matter of all my fiction," Fuentes once said. One of the main settings is the 16th century Spain, where Philip II constructs the monastery-palace of El Escorial. El gringo viejo (1985, The Old Gringo) was a triangle drama of an American woman, Harriet Winslow, Tomás Arroyo, a general, and the American journalist and writer Ambrose Bierce, who disappeaed during Pancho Villa's revolution in 1913. "She sees, over and over, the specters of Tomás Arroyo and the moon-faced woman and the old gringo cross her window. But they are not ghosts. They have simply mobilized their old pasts, hoping that she would do the same and join them." The book was filmed by Luis Puenzo in 1989, starring Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck. In Instinto de Inez (2001) Gabriel Atlan-Ferrara, a symphony conductor, realizes at the age of 93, that the future means for him death but in the past are love and Inez, the eternity. Like Artemio Cruz at the end of his life, Garbriel studies the choices he has made in his life. At the center of the story is a mystic crystal seal which unites space and time. Fuentes dedicated the book to his son Carlos Fuentes Lemus, who died in 1999 from complications associated with hemophilia. Fuentes' daughter Natasha Fuentes Lemus died in 2005 after a cardiac arrest
For further reading: Carlos Fuentes by Daniel de Guzman (1972); Nostalgia del futuro en la obra de Carlos Fuentes by Liliana Befumo Boschi and Elisa Calabrese (1974); Carlos Fuentes: A Critical View, ed. by Robert Brody and Charles Rossman (1974); The Achetypes of Carlos Fuentes by Glorian Durán (1980); Los disfraces: La obra mestiza de Carlos Fuentes by Georgina Garciá Gutiérrez (1981); Carlos Fuentes by Wendy D. Faris (1983); Carlos Fuentes: Life, Work, and Criticism by Alfonso Gonzáles (1987); Interpretaciones a la obra de Carlos Fuentes, ed. by Ana María de López Hernández (1990); The Writings of Carlos Fuentes by Raymond Leslie Williams (1996); The Postmodern Fuentes by Chalene Helmuth (1997); Carlos Fuentes desde la crítica, ed. by Georgina Garcia-Gutierrez (2001); Carlos Fuentes' the Death of Artemio Cruz, ed. by Harold Bloom (2006); Carlos Fuentes: A Critical View, ed. by Robert Brody and Charles Rossman (2011)