Carlos Fuentes Macias was born in 1928 and died a few days ago on May 15, 2012. He was a famous Mexican writer and commentator. He was one of the most admired Spanish writers in the world best known for his novels “The Old Gringo” (which was turned into a movie) and “The Death of Artemio Cruz.” He was one of the people who was very influential in the 1960s and 70s when there was an explosion of Latin American literature. He received many awards for his writing.
Fuentes was born in Panama City to Rafael Fuentes and Berta Macias. His father, Rafael, was a Mexican diplomat. Carlos spent most of his childhood in various Latin American capitals because of his father’s line of work. He counted these frequent moves as a blessing saying they gave him a view of Latin America as a critical outsider. Between 1934-40 the Fuentes family was assigned to Washington DC where Carlos attended English language school and became fluent in English. It was during that time also that he began to write and created his own magazine which he shared with apartments on his street block. In 1938 Mexico nationalized its foreign oil holdings resulting in an outcry from the US. It was during that time that Carlos was ostracized by his classmates and he began to understand himself as a Mexican he once said.
In 1940 the Fuentes family was transferred to Santiago, Chile and Carlos became interested in socialism which would become one of his lifelong passions over the years. This would be due partially to his interest in the poetry of Pablo Neruda a famous Hispanic poet. When Carlos was 16 years old he lived in Mexico for the first time in his life and he studied law there at the National Autonomous University of Mexico with the intention of launching a diplomatic career upon his graduation. During his time in Mexico City he also worked for the daily newspaper “Hoy” and wrote short stories.
Carlos was named as the head of cultural relations at the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs in 1957 and in the following year he published “Where the Air is Clear” which immediately made him a national celebrity. He then began to write full time and in 1959 moved to Havana, Cuba in the wake of the Cuban revolution. In Cuba, Carlos wrote several pro-Castro essays and articles. He also married Mexican actress Rita Macedo during that same year. Carlos was deemed “dashingly handsome” at the time. He married a second time also. Journalist Silvia Lemus became his second wife. From 1975-77 Carlos served as Mexico’s ambassador to France resigning in protest over Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz’s appointment as ambassador to Spain. Carlos detested the former presidents order to kill several student in Mexico City during his tenure as president. He also taught at several universities in the US during his lifetime including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Brown universities.
Carlos Fuentes supported the cause of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and this caused him some problems. In fact, it estranged him from his close friend poet Octavio Paz in the 1980’s and in 1988 Paz’s magazine “Vuelta” printed an attack on the legitimacy of Carlos’ Mexican identity. That article opened up a war between Fuentes and Paz that lasted until Paz died in 1998. The two friends were never reconciled sadly.
There is no doubt that Carlos Fuentes was controversial in many circles but one thing is for certain and that is that he was an influential and intelligent author and commentator. He once posted on Twitter the following:
“There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support
the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.”
These are profound words and whatever your political views are I’m sure you yearn for what all humanity yearns for and that is a better way, a better tomorrow. That is what Carlos Fuentes was calling for. An end to the human slaughter and barbarism and a search for something beyond, for something MORE. And it takes us all to find that better way.
There is an old saying that says “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Carlos believed that to be so and added once, “Do words need anything else?” Carlos realized the power of the written word and the spoken word as well. Further, it is said, “The bestsellers are written from the heart.” Fuentes believed that as well and once when asked about his writing process he simply said that when he begins to write he begins by asking, “Who am I writing for?”.
As noted above, Fuentes’ first successful novel was “La Region Mas Transparente” (Where the Air is Clear). This was a novel centered around the story of Federico Robles who abandoned his revolutionary ideals to become a powerful financier. The book offers several vignettes of Mexico City also. The novel makes heavy use of interior monologue and explorations of the subconscious for which the book was highly praised for. It also presents a stark portrait of inequality and moral corruption in modern Mexico.
Another of Fuentes’ successful books was “Las Buenas Conciencias” (The Good Conscience) which was a depiction of privileged middle class people living in a medium-sized town like Guanajuato. It was described as a “classic Marxist novel” by many at the time it was published. It tells the story of a privileged middle class young man whose impulses towards social equality are suffocated by his family’s gross materialism.
Perhaps his best novel was “La Muerte de Artemio Cruz” (The Death of Artemio Cruz) published in 1962. Today this novel is widely acclaimed as a seminal work of modern Spanish-American literature. The novel uses several rotating narrators, like many other of Fuentes’ works and it was heavily influenced by Orson Welles’ book “Citizen Kane.” In the novel Cruz is dying and looking back on his life as a former soldier in the Mexican Revolution who became wealthy over the years and powerful through the use of bribery, violence, and the violent exploitation of workers. The novel explores the corrupting effects of power and criticizes the distortion of the original aim of the revolution through class domination, Americanization, economic corruption, and the failure of Mexican land reform.
Fuentes undertook a massive writing project in his 1975 “Terro Nostra” which is a massive work telling the story of Hispanic civilization. The storyline shifts between the 16th and 20th centuries seeking the roots of contemporary Latin American society in the struggle between the Conquistadors and Native Americans.
In 1985 Fuentes published “Gringo Viejo” (The Old Gringo) which was a novel loosely based on the disappearance of American journalist Ambrose Bierce during the Mexican Revolution. This novel became the first bestseller written by a Mexican author and was later made into a Hollywood movie starring Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda, and Jimmy Smits.
Fuentes continued to write right up until the day of his death last week. On the day he died his latest writing appeared in the Reforma newspaper in Mexico which was an essay on the newly elected socialist government of France.
Carlos Fuentes was very controversial as a public figure and author over his lifetime.