Carlos Fuentes is one of those unusual novelists who would make the International Who's Who even if he had never written a novel. As a public man, Fuentes's career has been directed to Mexico's uneasy relationship with the outside world - he was Mexican Ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977. As a novelist, he explores the internal character of his country, in Where the air is clear, his first novel, originally published in 1958, in The Death of Artemio Cruz and in Terra Nostra. His novels feel their way along the paradoxes and social contradictions of Mexico: the complicated assimilations of its Indian, Spanish, French and North American legacies, its two natures as a state founded in socialist revolution yet effectively governed by feudal gangsters, or jefes. Mexico is a country where, as the sardonic proverb has it, 'the law is obeyed, then it is disregarded.' Eccentricity is written into a constitution which awards every citizen an inalienable 50 hectares of land, but very prudently does not specify where the land is. Fuentes sees Mexico as the site of two great and conflicting American myths: the myth of epic conquest, and the myth of a pre-existent utopia. And for Fuentes, Mexico is a country whose strangeness defies and yet can only be understood by the imaginations of fiction. Hence every worthwhile Mexican novel must, directly or indirectly, be a historical novel, a novel about 'our land'.
LRB 19 June 1986 | PDF Download