Christopher Unborn Summary
by Carlos Fuentes

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Christopher Unborn Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Action and characterization are much less important in Christopher Unborn than themes and linguistic games. The basic structure of the work, comprising the gestation of the title character from conception to birth, derives directly from Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), to which Fuentes refers both directly and obliquely. Although the focus of the action is on the unborn Christopher, he participates in nothing except his uterine development, which he describes graphically and explicitly. He nevertheless frequently addresses the reader and also supplies information about other characters in flashbacks and glimpses of future events. Much of the language of the novel is deliberately obscure in the manner of James Joyce, combining humor and verbal acrobatics.

Satire, literary criticism, political denunciation, and philosophical reflection grow out of a fantasy framework. A young couple, Angel and Angeles, plan to have a male child born exactly at midnight on October 12, 1992, and to name him Christopher in order to win a government prize offered to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Their act of conception takes place on the beach at Acapulco; overhead, the corruption of the central government is signaled by Uncle Homero’s appearance in the sky in a parachute towed by a motor boat, his means of escaping from the destruction of the city then taking place—a disaster organized at Homero’s own suggestion.

From an ultra-conventional home environment honoring the great physicists and writers of the past, Angel drifts into the morass of contemporary politics, where he is confused and beguiled by his two uncles. The older, Benitez, cherishes leftist and democratic ideals but has no arena in which to express them. The younger, Homero, runs for office as a candidate of the dominant Revolutionary Institutional Party, which claims to be democratic but is in its methods nationalistic and authoritarian. Although it professes to be progressive and concerned for the disadvantaged and indigenous populations, it is little different from its rival, the right-wing National Action Party. Homero comments that only the United States has had greater success in promoting a single party that pretends to be two.

As an instrument of large-scale thought control, the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party makes over a humble secretary to resemble a mixture of Mae West and the Virgin of Guadalupe and promotes her as Lady Mamadoc, the mother of the nation. A similar national icon, a fifty-year-old bolero singer from Chile—named, like a wine from that country, Concha Toro—claims the title of Last Playboy Centerfold and becomes the idol of senior citizens.

A third figure, Matamoros Moreno, who combines literary and political idiosyncracies, displays a mixture of banality and platitude in his literary texts comparable to that in the speeches of Angel’s uncles. When he asks Angel to help him find a publisher, Angel flees Mexico City. Moreno then turns to a pair of critics from the United States, D. C. Buckley and Will Gingerich, the latter a professor at Dartmouth College who is working as a tour guide while researching primitive...

(The entire section is 799 words.)