Thursday, May 17, 2012


Carlos Fuentes died. The “Trinity” of Latin American literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes is no longer.

Fuentes was a complex writer, diplomat and historian. Often arrogant, at times courageous- during the student massacre in Mexico in 1968 – often suffering from an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Nevertheless, he chose to live in the volcano rather than under, like the hero in Malcolm Lowry’s book. In his latest novel “Destiny and Desire” he embraced Mexico’s current hell with a baroque furor. The narco-civil war becomes an atrocious home-made killing field. The gratuitous executions are devoid of the mythology we usually linked to the rituals of the Mayan civilization. There is no longer a trace left other than the bloodbath south of the Rio Grande which becomes the habitat of the obscene robbers of life.

Fuentes ended up swapping distance for proximity. As he said so well:  “The ocean is undrinkable, but it drinks us”.  The French Nobel Prize for literature Le Clezio was still able to go to the heart of the Mexican silence.  Fuentes stabs it.  Lately he wrote like Diego Rivera painted, overflowing with rage and sadness. The elegant aristocrat mutated into an angry iconoclast. The lyrical commentator of Mexican art became the disenchanted observer of his brethren, lost without a compass.
While I served as ambassador in Mexico I came to love the country and notwithstanding the current violence that engulfs it, I know all the good, creative and generous aspects which remain.  It was always difficult to find God in those overdone, busy altars which looked as if they were attempting to mix the pagan with the sacred.  The same goes for those religious rituals in the south where faith and violence collide and collude.  Fuentes, like other Latin American writers, had an exceptional empathy with the effects of the intrusion of one civilization upon another. He was undoubtedly more familiar with the invader but was never oblivious to the resistance and humiliation of the invaded. Latin American countries are laboratories of many clashes of civilization, race, and customs, which have given rise to a systemic malaise. The origin of many contemporary works of art can be found in this latent identity crisis, in the first place amongst the middle and lower classes. There is always a need for some Orpheus to find the words which can provide relief.  We have lost a major one… Guernica should feel at home in the Mexico of today.

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