Many of the same political and artistic themes which shape Carlos Fuentes’ novels are the dominant concerns of the ten essays which comprise Myself with Others, the Mexican writer’s reflections on his life as a writer and the ideas, people, and events which have shaped his career. Here one reads Fuentes’ views on the cultural identity of Latin Americans; his fascination with the complex representation of human perceptions of time in narrative; and his interpretation of so-called marginalized societies, be they the banana republics of Latin America or nations of the Eastern Bloc such as Czechoslovakia.
Fuentes writes with passion about artistic exponents of freedom and with the sage wisdom of a mature political thinker in a Harvard University commencement address on the United States’ often-misguided policies in Latin America. He also speaks with the sensitivity of an astute reader of landmark novels of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. There is no sense of the dilettante in these essays; Fuentes knows his material intimately. For readers familiar with the vast range of his narrative writing over twenty-five years, there are really no surprises in these selections. Fuentes has always been a writer who has lived the commitment to culture and freedom about which he has written.
This blending of politics and art appears to be an effortless union in Fuentes’ writing, as it is in his thinking. As he notes at various points in these pages, the writer in Latin America is, by the nature of the society in which he or she lives, a political figure whose ideas and words have an impact often as great as those of politicians. Indeed, Fuentes, who was for a time in the 1970’s Mexico’s ambassador to France, follows in a rich Latin American tradition of statesmen who have also been important literary figures. These include Rómulo Gallegos in Venezuela, Pablo Neruda in Chile, and Fuentes’ countryman, Octavio Paz.
The book at first appears to be merely a collection of previously published writings, some appearing for the first time in English. That impression is misleading, however, for Myself with Others is a finely crafted volume ordered by a precise conceptual architecture similar to Fuentes’ working of his novels, which enhances the reader’s appreciation of particular pieces by their strategic placement in relation to other essays. As with a well-structured novel, there is a sense of order and direction which comes from the sequencing and grouping of the essays; this sense of order is strengthened by certain thematic leitmotivs. Finally, as in a well-written novel, there is a vision of people and situations which lingers with the reader long after the book has been read.
Reflecting the book’s title, Myself with Others is divided into three sections that, in a general way, parallel the perspectival plan of Fuentes’ most famous novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962). In that work he used three points of view in each chapter, “I,” “You,” and “He,” in order to describe the life and articulate the stream of consciousness of its protagonist, a powerful Mexican industrialist. In this work, he uses a similar scheme, expressed through the book’s three major divisions (part 1: Myself; part 2: Others; part 3: We), to map out his own multiple identities as a writer, literary critic, and Latin American. These divisions function like concentric circles, introducing the reader to the ever-widening cultural contexts in which Fuentes has moved over the course of his life. Indeed, as one follows the path charted by the essays, it becomes abundantly clear that Myself with Others is intended, in part, to serve as Fuentes’ spiritual autobiography.
In the first section, Fuentes describes growing up in Washington, D.C., in the 1930’s as the son of a Mexican diplomat:...
(The entire section is 1591 words.)