Carlos Fuentes: The Life and Death of Mexico’s Star AuthorWednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Carlos Fuentes, the beloved Mexican author, passed away in Mexico City last week. Fuentes wrote over 20 Spanish-language novels, including The Death of Artemio Cruz (La muerte de Artemio Cruz), The Old Gringo (Gringo viejo) and The Crystal Frontier (La frontera de cristal).
“He left an enormous body of work which is an eloquent testimony to all of the big political problems and cultural realities of our time,” fellow Latino author Mario Vargas Llosa said of Fuentes via Twitter.
Carlos Fuentes is truly a Latin American author, having lived in almost every corner of Central and South America. Fuentes was born in Panama in 1928 to Mexican parents. Due to his father’s career as a diplomat, Fuentes spent his childhood living in various Latin American capitals, including Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Fuentes family later moved to the Washington D.C. where Fuentes learned fluent English.
Fuentes was a prolific writer, writing many novels, short stories, essays, plays, screenplays and even an opera in 2008. Fuentes once stated that he wrote every day and never suffered from writer’s block, saying of his craft, “It’s like bricklaying or making a table. You have to take it seriously, you have to practice your trade each and every day, or you forget it.”
Fuentes was inspired to become a writer by the stories his grandmothers told him about Mexico. “I think that I became a writer because I heard those stories – all the stories that I didn’t know about Mexico, about my own land,” said Fuentes in 2006. “They were the storehouse of these great tales of migrants, revolution, highway robberies, bandits, love affairs, ways of dressing, eating – they had the whole storehouse of the past in their heads and their hearts.”
Fuentes’ first novel, Where the Air Is Clear (La región mas transparente, 1958) received critical praise and was a commercial success. During the 1960s Fuentes became known as one of the “Boom” writers. The “Boom” was a Latin American literary movement that included Nobel prize winners Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The movement, as well as Fuentes’ work, was widely recognized for its experiential nature and political themes.
Fuentes helped bring Latin American literature to global attention, as his work was translated into over two dozen languages. Carlos Fuentes gained popularity in the United States with his 1985 novel, The Old Gringo (Gringo viejo). The Old Gringo was the first U.S. bestseller written by a Mexican author. In 1989 The Old Gringo was adapted into a movie starring Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck.
Carlos Fuentes’ Political Views
In addition to his literary achievements, Fuentes was known for his strong political views, which he wasn’t shy about sharing. Fuentes was sympathetic to left-leaning and populist movements and governments, but at times strongly criticized the administrations of both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, once calling Chávez a “tropical Mussolini.”
Fuentes criticized the United States many times over his long career, and particularly took issue with U.S. foreign policy. “They know they need migrant Mexican labor, without which their harvests, services and many aspects of life would go to ruin,” he said. In his 1971 novel Tiempo Mexicano (Mexican Time), he wrote, “The United States is very good at understanding itself, and very bad at understanding others.”
In later years, Fuentes criticized the Mexican government for being unable to control its growing drug violence problem. Eerily, his final post on Twitter, dated March, 19, 2011, reads, “There must be something more than slaughter and barbarism to sustain the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.”
Here is an English-language Carlos Fuentes interview with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose from 2011.
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