As Mexico’s most respected author, Carlos Fuentes has made his reputation as a dynamic chronicler of what it means to be Mexican. With such novels as LA MUERTE DE ARTEMIO CRUZ (1962; THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ, 1964) and TERRA NOSTRA (1975; English translation, 1976), Fuentes employed innovative techniques in order to express the complexities of Mexican history and how Mexico’s past haunts its contemporary situation. The author continues his quest to unravel what it means to be Mexican, and in a larger sense Hispanic, in THE ORANGE TREE. The opening tale, “The Two Shores,” centers on Jeronimo de Aguilar, the man employed by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, to be his translator. Cortes had sailed to the New World to claim land and riches for Spain. In Mexico, Cortes and his men encounter the Aztecs. It becomes Aguilar’s responsibility to translate conversations between Cortes and the Aztec ruler. The mischievous Aguilar takes it upon himself to mistranslate what is said and, therefore, history is altered. In this tale, Fuentes makes the point that the creation of culture is as much a product of how language is employed as it is a product of what happens on the battlefield.
In the remaining novellas, Fuentes also comments on major historical events through the voices of minor characters to these events. In the second tale, “Sons of the Conquistador,” the two sons of Cortes relate their versions of the truth concerning their father’s activities and motivation. Fuentes paints vivid portraits of individuals struggling to be recognized by the culture that they inhabit. In the novellas, Fuentes employs the symbol of the planting of an orange tree to represent the introduction of culture into new soil. Irony envelops all five of the novellas. THE ORANGE TREE is a fine entertainment and much more. Fuentes has taken the attentive reader on a journey where worlds have been turned upside down and inside out, and the reader is left unsettled but greatly enriched.