In his 2002 memoir, “No Borders: A Journalist’s Search for Home,” Ramos recounts that in 1991 he was elbowed in the stomach and knocked to the ground by a bodyguard after accosting a politician, peppering him with questions and making an uncomfortable declaration. This time, the politician was President Fidel Castro of Cuba, and what Ramos said was, “Many people believe that this is the time for you to call for an election.” At the last word, the bodyguard’s elbow struck.
This is how it used to work: In the 1970s farmers would pay Mexican officials for permission to plant hectares of marijuana or poppy. “Once the fields had been sown,” an anonymous source tells Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, “they stuck little colored flags on them, according to the arrangement. This meant that when the [government] helicopters flew over, instead of fumigating them they would water them.”
by Marcela ValdesThe Washington Post. May 15, 2012.
Carlos Fuentes, the politically engaged Mexican novelist and irrepressible bon vivant who stood at the forefront of Latin American letters for more than half a century, died May 15 at a hospital in Mexico City. He was 83.
Mexico’s National Council for Culture and the Arts announced the death but did not disclose the cause. He was being treated for heart problems.
A diplomat’s son, Mr. Fuentes was working for the Mexican Foreign Ministry when he catapulted to prominence with his first novel, “Where the Air is Clear” (1958). Presenting an extravagant portrait of inequality and moral corruption in modern Mexico, the book established its 29-year-old author as a daring social critic and prose stylist and helped usher in a renaissance in Latin American literature known as the “Boom.”
As his literary career progressed, Mr. Fuentes blended his fascination with politics, and his fervent depiction of erotic couplings, with broader themes such as the inescapable influence of history, the intersection of native and European cultures, and the betrayal of national ideals for personal gain.
'Destiny and Desire' by Carlos FuentesReviewed by Marcela Valdes The Washington Post. February 1, 2011.
Carlos Fuentes is known for writing serious books about Mexico, and despite all its silliness, his latest novel, "Destiny and Desire," is clearly not intended as an exception. The book fairly smokes with acid commentary on Mexican history ("It has all been betrayal, lies, cruelty, and vengeance") and political manipulation ("Throughout Latin America homage is paid to the law only to violate it more thoroughly").
Giving himself fuel to burn, Fuentes sets "Destiny" in a law school, a prison, a presidential palace and the headquarters of a telecommunications billionaire who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mexico's richest citizen, Carlos Slim. For those who like a flash of magic, there's also a heaven where angels play poker and a windy graveyard dominated by the ghost of Mexico's old ideals.
The novel opens, however, in a much sweeter location: the postcard-perfect beaches of Mexico's Pacific Coast. There lies our narrator: the decapitated head of 27-year-old Josue Nadal. A bloody noggin may be a surprising choice for raconteur, but Josue's story feels familiar. It starts with his idealistic strivings and ends with his disastrous introduction to the backrooms of Mexican power.
The day that marks his fate occurs when Josue is 16. Bullied by classmates for his long, thin nose - "Anteater snout," they call him, along with "Monster schnoz" and "Elephant honker" - he finally defends his honor by punching the schoolyard leader. He's saved from a retaliatory beating when one of his tormentors suddenly turns coat and jumps to his aid.
Josue's new ally is Jerico, a 17-year-old as mysterious as James Bond: He claims to have no family and no last name. Such freakish isolation might give a normal young man pause, but Josue's domestic situation is equally strange. He has no memories of a mother or father; he's been raised by a chilly guardian who barely speaks, and, like Jerico, his expenses are all covered by an invisible and anonymous "senor."
Having triumphed over the epithet-shouters, Josue and Jerico seal their alliance by committing themselves to a "project for life." Their goal is intellectual independence: "We would not permit anyone to inculcate in us opinions that weren't ours" - no small feat for two lonely musketeers enrolled in a stern Catholic school. Their first step is to debate the merits of Saint Augustine and Friedrich Nietzsche in the gym showers. Nietzsche, however, proves a kind of gateway drug. Soon enough, the boys have moved from sharing books to sharing mentors to sharing an apartment to sharing a favorite whore.
What they don't share is Jerico's will to power. The older he gets, the more Jerico craves public position, while Josue aches mostly for love. They might have run happily along parallel courses - one chasing votes, the other chasing skirts - if it weren't for two interfering factors. Powerful men have stakes in their careers. And Jerico likes criminals. "Above all things," he tells Josue, "I admire the man who murders what he loves."
In theory, all of this - cynical social commentary, anonymous benefactors, dangerous friendship - could be marvelous. But the unavoidable fact is that not a single character in "Destiny and Desire" won my affection, or even my curiosity. Fuentes suggests alternately that Josue and Jerico are like the Greek demigods Castor and Pollux or like the biblical brothers Cain and Abel. Sure. The problem is that they feel too much like ideas, not enough like men.
And their female paramours are worse: a mute whore whose husband becomes paralyzed after an energetic sex act; a femme fatale who is all ice and calculation; a drug-addicted nymphomaniac who nicknames one of the boys "Savior." Had these women strutted through an old Chandler novel, I may well have enjoyed them, or at least enjoyed laughing over them. But Fuentes lacks Chandler's lightning style. On being asked by a taxi driver, "Where to chief?" Josue falls into high-toned reverie:
"Where to? It was enough to look outside the car at the vast desert of the Anillo Periferico, the outer beltway that foreshadows the funeral that awaits us if we don't choose to turn ourselves into ashes first. Sacrificed after all, we die on the cement perimeter that reflects and celebrates a new city that has shed its old skin . . ." and on and on for more than a page. Wading through this soliloquy, I found myself empathizing with the cab driver, whom I imagined drumming his fingers on the wheel, impatient for the plot to lurch ahead.
But let's give Fuentes the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he adopts such turgid prose intentionally, to convey something about Josue's character. Something like: Aching to be a great intellect, Josue has trouble seeing reality. Or maybe: Abandoned by his parents, Josue finds reality so painful that he defends himself with abstractions.
Either of these could be true. Nevertheless, the author's job is to make the reader want to stay with a novel page after page. Fuentes never really pokes fun at Josue's self-importance, never gets around the young man's humorless perspective, the way Howard Jacobson got around his narrator's delusions in "The Finkler Question."
Instead, we're trapped inside the mind of a tendentious young man who is by turns boring, pretentious, insightful and ridiculous. Reader, I would have decapitated him, too.
by Marcela Valdes The Nation. November 19, 2008. Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
The Part About the Author
Shortly before he died of liver failure in July 2003, Roberto Bolaño remarked that he would have preferred to be a detective rather than a writer. Bolaño was 50 years old at the time, and by then he was widely considered to be the most important Latin American novelist since Gabriel García Márquez. But when Mexican Playboy interviewed him, Bolaño was unequivocal. "I would have liked to be a homicide detective, much more than a writer," he told the magazine. "Of that I'm absolutely sure. A string of homicides. Someone who could go back alone, at night, to the scene of the crime, and not be afraid of ghosts."
Detective stories, and provocative remarks, were always passions of Bolaño's--he once declared James Ellroy among the best living writers in English--but his interest in gumshoe tales went beyond matters of plot and style. In their essence, detective stories are investigations into the motives and mechanics of violence, and Bolaño--who moved to Mexico the year of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre and was imprisoned during the 1973 military coup in his native Chile--was also obsessed with such matters. The great subject of his oeuvre is the relationship between art and infamy, craft and crime, the writer and the totalitarian state.
In fact, all of Bolaño's mature novels scrutinize how writers react to repressive regimes. Distant Star (1996) grapples with Chile's history of death squads and desaparecidos by conjuring up a poet turned serial killer. The Savage Detectives (1998) exalts a gang of young poets who joust against state-funded writers during the years of Mexico's dirty wars. Amulet (1999) revolves around a middle-aged poet who survives the government's 1968 invasion of the Autonomous University of Mexico by hiding in a bathroom. By Night in Chile (2000) depicts a literary salon where writers party in the same house in which dissidents are tortured. And Bolaño's final, posthumous novel, 2666, is also spun from ghastly news: the murder, since 1993, of more than 430 women and girls in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, particularly in Ciudad Juárez.