The Death of Artemio Cruz is a breakthrough Latin American novel by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. It is narrated from a stream of consciousness perspective where main character Artemio Cruz shifts from past to present as he reminisces about his life on his deathbed.
The setting is dramatically and poetically ironic; Cruz, once a venerated and respected great man of the community, is actually a dirty and rotten human being who has earned his riches and power through exploitation and the abuse of others. The irony comes when the reader realizes that Artemio is on his deathbed due to an intestinal condition which produces a never-ending stench in his nostrils; this is highly allegorical of the rotten nature of his dalliances during his earlier years: choices which now lead him where he is at the moment.
Artemio remembers how he married his wife after having visited her family during the war (he was a soldier during the Mexican revolution of 1910), and intended to give news about the firing squad. He entered into the confidence of the rich estateman who is he would-be father in law, achieving the hand of his now fiancee and taking over her money. He cheats on her repeatedly and took their only son away from his mother's care to make him into a soldier. When his child gets killed during the war, his wife and other daughter despise him for as long as he is alive.
Artemio remembers all of his female exploitations, and especially how he was voted as town deputy through bribing and embezzling from others. As all of this happens the people around his bed are only thinking about Artemio's will. He is such a vile man that he refuses to disclose its location. Moreover, he is being assisted by his secretary, who continuously plays for him tapes where Artemio can be heard making plans and talking business. In other ironic twists, Artemio is also being probed and humiliated by his doctors while he remembers these important life events.
The last part of Artemio's memories take him back to the very beginning of his life. This may or may not justify the way that he turned out to be as an adult. This is because Artemio is seen for what h really was once: the son of poor, half-caste country people whose only friend was a mulatto, and whose poverty was only alleviated when he was taken to be trained to serve in the revolution. Perhaps it is nurture what changed Artemio from humble to overly ambitious; perhaps it was a survival mechanism that he could only learn from his training. Either way, Artemio is ultimately a despot on his deathbed, trying to figure out his life.