Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes is one of Latin America’s leading writers. His most successful novel, La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964), is a stylistically complex revelation of the life of a twentieth century Mexican who helped shape the image of his country. In Terra Nostra, Fuentes turns to sixteenth century Spain as the historical moment in which the whole of Hispanic cultural and political history can be revealed. Just as The Death of Artemio Cruz is directly related to the ideas developed by the Mexican essayist Octavio Paz in El laberinto de la soledad: vida y pensamiento de Mexico (1959; The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1961), Terra Nostra is a fictive narrative of the ideas developed by Fuentes in his essay, Cervantes: O, La crítica de la lectura (1976; Cervantes: Or, The Critique of Reading, 1976). As Fuentes says, his novel reveals an attempt to reconcile the dual history of liberal Spain and reactionary Spain, a concept also explored by Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude.

Terra Nostra attempts to be a “total novel” not only in its interpretation of the whole of Hispanic history, but also in its stylistic complexity. In Terra Nostra, Fuentes treats “memory as total knowledge of a total past,” not only what actually happened but also “what could have been and was not.” To convey this complex vision, he employs a dazzling array of narrative devices, so that, in the words of Milan Kundera, the novel becomes “an immense dream in which history is performed by endlessly reincarnated characters who say to us: it is always us, we are the same who go on playing the game of history.”