Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012

20120519_OBP001_0In the Economist:

So prolific was his output that it was inevitably uneven. Some of the early novels will last the best. They are panoramic, richly-textured reflections on Mexican history, its underlying contradictions of world view between Indian and Spaniard and their sometimes awkward melding in mestizaje and in the country’s revolution of 1910-17. “La Región Más Transparente” (translated as “Where the Air is Clear”), his ambitious debut novel set in Mexico City, reflects on the challenge to Mexican identity posed by modernity. “The Death of Artemio Cruz”, published in 1962, chronicles the descent from the idealism of revolution to the cynicism of the long rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) through the life of a politician and newspaper tycoon enriched by graft.

The creative antagonism of the relationship between Spain and America was an obsession for Mr Fuentes, recurring in “Terra Nostra”, a sprawling historical fantasy, and “The Buried Mirror”, an extended essay. The narrator in “Artemio Cruz” imagines in a baroque church

the façade of the Conquest, severe yet jocund, with one foot in the dead Old World and the other in the New, which did not begin here but on the other side of the ocean: the New World arrived when they arrived; façade of austere walls to protect their avaricious, sensual, happy hearts. You will enter the nave, where all that was Spanish will be conquered by the macabre smiling lavishness of Indian saints, angels, and gods.

Mr Fuentes was a leading figure in the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s, a friend of both Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa (as well as of Octavio Paz until their relationship was destroyed by an intemperate attack on Mr Fuentes in Mr Paz’s literary magazine). Many thought it unjust that he alone of these four did not receive the Nobel prize.

He was no magical realist. His inspirations were Cervantes and Borges. His language was complex. He employed multiple voices and styles. His upbringing in two cultures, Latin American and Anglo-Saxon, made him both a Mexican and a universal writer.