By 1992, in Carlos Fuentes’ grim but comic vision, Mexico will be well on the road to disintegration. The northern part will have been annexed to the Sunbelt of the United States to form Mexamerica; the Yucatan will have been sold to Club Med to pay off some of the international debt; the area around Vera Cruz will be occupied by United States Marines. What remains of the country, especially the capital, which Fuentes frequently calls Makesicko City, will be strangling in garbage, sewage, and air pollution, all caused by overpopulation and decades of corrupt government.
To provide a narrative center for the novel, Fuentes invents a young couple, Angel and Angeles, who meet in romantic circumstances and who conceive a child in the country’s most famous resort, which Fuentes most often calls Kafkapulco. The child’s birth, they hope, will coincide with Columbus Day, 1992; the child will be male, will be named Christopher, and will win the government’s promised prize of untold riches and power for the first male child named Christopher to be born on that day. It is this unborn child who is the improbable narrator of the improbable events of the novel, which ends with his birth.
Christopher’s gestation and his parents’ adventures are the hub around which Fuentes details a wild, imaginary series of events, historical observations, and verbal fireworks. He sees the history of his country as a series of natural calamities (for example, the devastating earthquake of 1985) and continual political oppression (the long reign of the ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, and the massacres of students, especially in 1968) that has betrayed the revolutions which promised to bring to Mexico independence and democracy. In the course of the novel he invents new calamities: Acapulco is destroyed; there is a bloody revolution which is even more bloodily ended. The unnamed cities of shacks surrounding Mexico City, housing the poor in unimaginable squalor, are vividly evoked, as are the conditions in which the country’s surviving Indian populations exist.
Nevertheless, Christopher Unborn is seldom grim for very long. Fuentes provides puns, jokes, and verbal fireworks in great profusion, as well as almost continuous action—much of it violent. The device of having a fetus narrate a novel, admittedly borrowed from the classic English novel Tristram Shandy (1760), by Laurence Sterne, provides much of the comedy. Fuentes gives his narrative voice almost unlimited knowledge of Mexico’s past and an understanding of the present that is both naive and skeptical. The result is a running commentary that provides surprise as well as comprehension.
The imaginary events described in the novel take Angel and Angeles on a tortuous journey, beginning in Acapulco where the child is conceived. Almost at once, Acapulco itself is destroyed. At first it seems that Egg, Orphan Huerta, Hipi Toltec, and Baby Ba, the members of a subversive rock band, have caused the destruction, but it soon becomes clear that in fact the government is behind the event, intending to create more opportunities for graft. The young couple flee from the city with Don Fernando Benítez and Don Homero Fagoaga, who had apparently been killed but who miraculously survives, as he will so often and so improbably.
The journey is interrupted when Don Fernando tries to urge a group of laborers on the road to strike for more money and better conditions. In one of the many coincidences for which Fuentes offers no apology or explanation, the leader of the road gang is Matamoros Moreno, who has appeared earlier as the author of a fantastic book for which he wants Angel to find a publisher. (Angel, disliking the book but frightened of the man, fled to Oaxaca and hid there for several months before daring to return to Mexico City.) Now Moreno has his revenge, as he and his crew rape both Angel and Angeles.
The travelers eventually make their way to the...
(The entire section is 1631 words.)