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Carlos Fuentes: layered and complex writer of the left

This article is over 11 years, 11 months old
Mike Gonzalez looks back at the life of the Mexican novelist who died last month
Issue 2305
Carlos Fuentes  (Pic: Gustavo Benítez)
Carlos Fuentes (Pic: Gustavo Benítez)

Carlos Fuentes gave a typically blunt interview to the BBC in December.

He denounced all the candidates in Mexico’s presidential election as mediocrities. None would confront the country’s corruption, inequality and violence, he said.

These issues were a recurring feature of his work. His 1958 novel Where the Air is Clear established his reputation.

It portrayed the chaotic growth of a Mexico City where deep poverty could coexist with immense wealth (the world’s richest man is a Mexican).

Fuentes wrote his most important novel four years later. The Death of Artemio Cruz is a scathing critique of how the Mexican revolution of 1910 betrayed its declared purposes.

It installed a new ruling class that used the language of revolution to veil its political machine.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (an unintended irony) ruled Mexico for 70 years with corruption and repression.

In 1968 it massacred hundreds of students days before the Olympics. Fuentes, then Mexico’s ambassador to Britain, resigned in protest.

He made one more attempt to follow a diplomatic career at the French embassy in the mid-1970s. But he resigned again and devoted himself to writing.

Fuentes supported Nicaragua’s left wing Sandinista movement, to the fury of his old friend and colleague, Octavio Paz—a great poet but a man of the right. They broke contact.

Throughout his life Fuentes was a writer of the democratic left who described himself as a socialist—although a patrician one.

He belonged to a generation of writers who won Latin America a seat at the high table of world literature. His work was layered and complex.

The rich historical narrative of his TV series The Buried Mirror shows how culture and historical memory shape the way societies work.

As his huge 1980s novel Christopher Unborn showed, language can reveal reality—but it can also be used to mask it.

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